A Deficit of Courage, Leadership
I like this time of year.
The days are getting shorter. High school football fields are alive with young players preparing for a new season. Kids, adolescents and young adults are anticipating the first day of school, high school and college. Middle-aged couples face the new reality of an empty nest.
It’s odd. The calendar year ends in December. The fiscal year ends in June. Yet, owing to the rhythm of life that develops around the kids we raise and the kids we were, the years seem to end around Labor Day and begin anew in autumn. Those who can are getting in one last trip to the beach — one last chance for reflection before getting back in the game.
This was the year of the deficit. In 2010, when we thought we were voting for jobs, the new majority in Congress focused instead on what they were sure we meant or what they needed us to mean, the deficit.
Eight months later the new Congress had managed to mishandle a routine raising of the debt ceiling so magnificently that they precipitated a downgrade of our credit rating and imperiled an already fragile recovery — which will in turn make it harder to reduce the deficit. In an unprecedented demonstration of gross incompetence, the new Congress forced an unnecessary showdown in which nobody won but the American people surely lost.
America doesn’t just have a deficit problem, it has deficit problems. There are all kinds of deficits. For instance, when the Republican-controlled Congress sees a political opportunity in making an issue of raising the debt ceiling for the new administration after having done it routinely 19 times for the previous administration, there is a deficit of credibility.
When Congress favors cuts to education, law enforcement and programs that working people depend upon over closing corporate tax loopholes and raising revenues from the most privileged Americans, there is a deficit of compassion.
Warren Buffett, a man who understands a thing or two about capitalism, said it better. In a column for The New York Times, he wrote: “While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. ... These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species.”
Buffett knows that the “job creators” are most inclined to create jobs when and where working people have an extra dollar in their pocket to spend. Congress’ blind devotion to a tired and discredited “trickle-down theory” shows a deficit of understanding of real-world economics.
When ideologues comprising less than a quarter of the populace are allowed to set the agenda and call the shots in the halls of Congress, there is a deficit of courage and leadership. These deficits extend beyond our the people we elect. It is incumbent upon each of us to be responsible for our vested share in this republic.
Most of all, we suffer a deficit of humility.
Americans do not do humility well. It’s difficult to be exceptional and humble. We are a proud people, and we tend to mistake humility for weakness, even though the Bible that 75 percent of us claim to believe in counts humility as a virtue and pride as a deadly sin. Humility facilitates civility, which in turn facilitates cooperation. It is the attribute that saves us from fanaticism.
I like this quote from author and former evangelical preacher Frank Schaeffer: “Nobody ever blew up a mosque or an abortion clinic after screaming, ‘I might be wrong.”’
Likewise, people with the virtue of humility don’t hold their country’s economy hostage late into the 11th hour in a reckless and potentially catastrophic display of brinksmanship.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.”
This nation was born of a common struggle to be heard and to be counted. When we’re so certain of ourselves that we stop listening to each other, we lose the dynamism that made this country what it was and what it might be again.
But I might be wrong.
Kevin Smith lives in Aberdeen. Contact him at email@example.com.
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