Published in The Enterprise, 6-29-98
While we are all driven apart from each other by the wedge-politics of our time, grand opportunities for real solutions will remain untapped. It seems we would rather call each other names - like the unenlightening labels "liberal," "conservative," "left-wing," and "right-wing" - than try to figure out together those areas where there is some agreement and to cooperatively address common concerns.
For instance, so-called "liberals" speak of social welfare programs as if only they want to help the poor and disabled; so-called "conservatives" speak of cutting taxes and limiting government spending as if only they care about balancing the budget and eliminating the deficit.
However, we are all far more closely aligned in these areas than might be expected. Actually, almost everyone in this nation believes in the concept of a "safety net" for the least fortunate in our society. The irony is that so-called "liberals" have approached fiscal matters in such a short-sighted way, spending far beyond our country's means, that, instead of financing more of those programs that greatly benefit the people of this country (e.g., education, scientific and medical research, national parks, veterans' programs, housing assistance, and dozens of other constructive things that government has provided in the past), the federal government will not be able to do any more than pay interest on the accumulated national debt and continue financing entitlement programs unless huge cuts in the national budget are accomplished soon and revenues are increased.
The other irony is that so-called "conservatives" have been at least equally culpable co-conspirators in borrowing-and-spending our government into an accumulated debt of approximately $5.5 trillion, without paying one nickel on the principal of our debt since 1969.
Notwithstanding the differences that politicians thrive on exploiting, we have significant challenges in common that we can meet together with reasonable measures.
- We can all commit to support the long-term balancing of our budget and the elimination of our accumulated debt. To do that, particularly with the impending mass entry into retirement of baby-boomers, we must recognize that we simply cannot afford to pay everyone, regardless of need, the same benefits under Social Security and Medicare. We can demand that our politicians face the facts and devise solutions, rather than play the cowardly politics both major parties have played the past several years with Social Security and Medicare.
- We can all agree on the basic concept of paying-as-we-go. Together, we can insist that spending be limited to our revenues and that revenues be raised to cover our spending - at least in peacetime.
- We can all agree to stop expecting government to solve all of our problems. If one chooses to live in a beautiful beach community that experiences occasional hurricanes, he or she should not be able to forego the cost of private insurance, confident that the government will be there to bail everyone out if they suffer losses in the next hurricane. If a person is not needed at home and is able to work, he or she should not expect to be supported by taxpayers. And if businesses seek to sell their products overseas, they should not expect millions of dollars in government funds to be available for advertising their products.
- We all have an interest in reforming our welfare system, but it should be done in a manner that encourages and makes feasible the training and employment of those who are otherwise trapped in a cycle of poverty and hopelessness. Far too often in the discussion of "welfare reform," the term "reform" really means "punishment." The punishment of the poor, and the placement of obstacles in the way to independent living, is not in anyone's legitimate long-term interests.
We are not a nation of separate camps. Although we can disagree about how best to get where we want to be, we are all in this together and it is high time we start acting like it. And we should demand that our political leaders start acting like it also. We need solutions, not more political gamesmanship.