When I first started writing this blog, “Keeping Your Head In The Game,” and later expanding to a Twitter account, two things were at the forefront. First, was the inspiration of truth-bringing, and taking advantage of the many opportunities available for communication today. The second was the parameters I put into place to guide me: it would be Gospel-oriented, Spirit-driven, and culturally relevant, with only limited personal anecdotes. I do recognize, however, that there are times and places where things intersect: where Kingdom, culture, politics, finances, and righteousness all come together. It is at these moments that we need to be like those men of Issachar who have “understanding of the times to know what Israel ought to do.” So, I’m not stepping outside my calling by giving attention to some of the state of affairs in our nation today. At the outset, let me make clear, I am not a professional pundit or economist. What I do bring is a measure of common sense garnered over nearly four decades working with people and being a diligent student of human nature. This is basically a layman’s look at and lessons from the debt crisis.
President Harry S. Truman was the 33rd President of the United States, inaugurated in 1948. On his desk in the oval office of the White House he had a 2 ½" x 13" sign mounted in a walnut base that read, “The Buck Stops Here.” This was not just a decorative piece, but it was something he believed and it was an influential part of how he governed. The etymology behind it came from the slang term, “passing the buck” or passing responsibility for things on to someone else. He referred to this desk sign in public statements on more than one occasion. The most memorable might have been his farewell address to the American people in January of 1953. He spoke to this concept very straight-forward when he said, “The President–whoever he is–has to decide. He can’t pass the buck to anybody. No one else can do the deciding for him. That’s his job.” I think the reason this stood out so to me is how it runs so completely counter to the current climate in Washington D.C.
I’m speaking specifically to the crisis over the U.S. debt ceiling, and the historic downgrading of America’s credit rating to a AA+ rating from its standard triple A rating. This is the first time in our nation’s history where this has occurred. It has Wall Street and markets around the world reeling, and we hear phrases and read headlines like: “Barack-alypse Now,” “Obama-geddon” or “Debt Man Walking.” President Obama is definitely not the one solely responsible for our current fiasco, but everyone is extremely reluctant to say “The buck stops here” (especially in an election cycle where the spinmeisters are all hard at work). The headline that caught my attention more than anything and the inspiration behind this piece was, “Capitol Hill’s blame game demonstrates S & P’s disgust.” The blame game and the finger pointing has kicked in full force.
The age-old adage, “shoot the messenger” seems to be the order of the day in D.C. There’s plenty of blame to go around, and the list of “culprits” is substantial. Some people’s strategy is to attack the credibility of the rating agency Standard & Poors. The President blames Congress or President Bush (how long can they keeping whipping this?). Congress blames the President. Democrats blame Republicans, and Republicans blame the Democrats. The two that really caught my eye was Congressman Barney Frank’s blaming the military, even though defense represents a meager 4% of our nation’s budget. I’m sure that makes the men and women who are putting their lives in harm’s way feel greatly appreciated. The other politically-expedient target of the media and many politicians is to blame the Tea Party. You know, those elected officials who were sent to Washington D.C. largely over concern about our countries’ fiscal policies, and to help put our house in order. Senator John Kerry called the downgrading of the U.S. credit, “The Tea Party Downgrade.” This was also echoed by Obama’s advisor David Axelrod on CBS’ “Face The Nation” when he said “The Tea Party brought us to the brink of default.” Liberal pundits have likened them to suicide bombers and terrorists, saying they were guilty of an act of treason. Yes, the audacity of these freshmen Congressmen and women to stand on principle and promises to actually cut spending, and institute a policy of fiscal responsibility. Why, the nerve of them to suggest such a thing!
All this reflects one of the deep pathologies at work in our government from the top down: from Washington D.C. to “Podunk County” anywhere; from the President down to the common man on the street. Biblically, the trait of passing the buck is as old as man (“it’s the woman You gave me”), and as a result is deeply ingrained in human nature. If you do a Google search using the two words “Obama - blames,” you get over 6 million hits! This practice is also one of the tenets of our entitlement culture today, that is more aware and vocal about perceived “rights” while silent about “responsibilities.” Sadly, this is how Washington operates, which is one of the many reasons Washington and much of the media is so dysfunctional. One Tea Party critic (Rep. Steve Israel D-NY) said it was the “roadblock Republicans” that forced House Speaker John Boehner to side-step a deal with President Obama. He said that would’ve prevented the downgrade. This shows the level of ineptitude in D.C. since the real problem is not the downgrade but the size of the debt and the out-of-control spending! Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) said the downgrade strengthened his position that America needs fiscal restraint. “This deal was not a serious attempt to solve our spending and debt problem - it was a political solution meant to kick the can down the road.”
Enough of the blame. More important is a basic understanding of how we got into this fix. I can tell you it didn’t happen overnight, it has been coming for a generation. For years, fiscal conservatives have warned against the dangers of out-of-control borrowing and spending. Current and past Presidents and Congresses have ignored them, rolling up massive national debt. I read a great article by Ken Connor on “Government In Denial About Natural Laws of Finance?” It’s not like we couldn’t see this coming. We are $14.5 trillion in debt, and the spending addicts in the Congress just raised the debt limit! Our “spend-aholics” on both sides of the aisle keep squeezing the turnip, and are shocked with feigned outrage that the country now finds itself in this predicament.
“Well what on earth did they think was going to happen? When you continually spend more than you take in and refuse to change your ways, disaster is inevitable. At some oint the well will run dry, but the bills still have to be paid. And when they aren’t, your credit rating suffers and your sources of revenue dry up. You reach the point where you are forced to make adjustments. It’s not that complicated. For years, our government appears to have been in denial about the natural laws of money and finance. But denying that natural laws exist doesn’t suspend their effect. You can deny the law of gravity, but if you jump off the Empire State building you will soon discover that your personal opinions about the matter are irrelevant.”
And now, we’re going to have the so-called “super committee” to tell us how to get out of this mess, tasked with finding $1.2 trillion in additional deficit reduction by November 23rd. The irony is some of these appointing and being appointed helped create this situation!? Where else but in Washington D.C.! To put all this Biblically, “that which a man sows, he will also reap.”
So, what needs to happen? Remember, I am a novice, a nobody. I am just moving from a common sense, Biblical platform. A few things stand out in my mind.
Begin with God! The Scripture formula is “seek FIRST the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” Haggai’s words resonate to our present circumstances (it has a national context to it also), “Now therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways. Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes. Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways.” (Haggai 1:5-7)
Look at our own heart and lives. While our government has been out-of-control, people themselves have been busy borrowing and spending like fiends. The NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote, “The generation that came of age in the last 50 years will be remembered most for the incredible bounty and freedom it received from its parents and the incredible debt burden and constraints it left on its kids.” Friedman calls this the “clash of generations.” Charles Colson commented on it by saying, “The greatest generation scrimped and saved; their kids, the boomers, went on a big shopping binge.”
Get rid of some of these knuckle-heads whose spending appetites know no discipline or restraint. In their place, elect fiscal and social conservatives who will live and stand by their principles.
We need right leadership. It was grieving to read a headline that said, “White House: No plan, No Specifics, No Strategy, No Responsibility.” Unlike President Truman’s understanding, the White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney, echoed what the Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said, that the White House bears no responsibility for the historic downgrade in America’s credit rating. As I said clearly earlier, the President is not the one entirely responsible by any means, but to claim no responsibility is one of the manifestations of the toxic environment that exists today.
Wean ourselves from the entitlement mentality. As painful as it might be this, and the accompanying class envy today, is rampant. Digest this: HALF of American pays NO taxes at all. Like the Tower of Babel, we’re building our financial tower on a false world view. Government cannot create jobs; but they can create an atmosphere that encourages or discourages economic growth and recovery. Get out of the way and let the dynamic entrepreneurial quality of America work and inspire.
Hmm, I wonder...if I raise my own debt ceiling will it end my crisis? Yeah, I didn't think so. It doesn't work on an individual level, and over time as we’re discovering, it doesn't work on a national level either!