July 4, 2011
Our celebration of Independence Day* is perhaps a little more somber this year, due to fears that our government may default on its debt in the next month or so. Why can't our elected officials reach an agreement on solving the fiscal policy dispute? What is wrong with the U.S. government??? Robert Samuelson writes in today's Washington Post that this situation draws attention to a growing angst about the shared values that define us as a nation. We are defined not by ethnicity but rather by our (small d) democratic political culture. Can we continue to remain prosperous in our system of self-government? He points to the growing polarization as a reason to doubt:
The struggle nominally pits liberals against conservatives, but this is misleading. The real debate involves reactionaries vs. radicals. Many liberals are reactionaries and many conservatives are radicals.
Indeed, it is disconcerting that many leaders in both parties seem so blase about the consequences of refusing to budge from their dogmatic positions. Obviously, I'm more sympathetic to the Republican side in the ongoing standoff, agreeing that the deficit is mainly (but not exclusively) caused by excessive spending. Tax cuts during the Bush years are certainly a big part of the problem that needs to be fixed, but these days it's hard to find a Republican who will admit that. Dogma! To me it's obvious that a compromise between House Republicans and Senate Democrats will be required, hopefully one that meaningfully addresses the underlying fiscal problem. (Hint: reforming entitlements!) Such a compromise will have to include some revenue enhancements. But this is not a moment to indulge in partisan recriminations; it is a time to do what is best for the country as a whole.
In this regard, it should be pointed out that there is a strong and direct correlation between national independence and national debt. If a country can't pay its creditors on time, it become beholden to them for further credit, which in turn constrains the country's freedom of action. That is the predicament that newly independent Latin American countries found themselves in during the 1820s and 1830s, and many of them defaulted on the debts that were incurred to pay for the patriotic armies that liberated them from Spanish control. Let's hope we never let that happen to ourselves.
*Perhaps we should celebrate independence on the date it was formally recognized by our former imperial masters in London: September 3, 1783. That was the day the Treaty of Paris was signed.
In church yesterday we sang patriotic hymns to mark the anniversary of our day of independence. This refrain seems particularly appropriate for our times:
God mend thine ev'ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.