Watching and listening to our elected congressmen and senators stumble toward the latest deadline for addressing the debt limit crisis by rhetorically scratching and clawing at each other is at best annoying and at worse numbing.
That “crisis,” like previous crises generated by the same issue and similar circumstances, was created by previous Congresses unnecessarily (unless you believe political and legislative posturing is necessary), by repeatedly voting to limit by statute the level of our federal government’s debt to less than the amount required to operate the government as mandated by the laws that — you guessed it — were passed by Congresses past and present.
Now we all know (I think) that if our federal government spends more than it takes in as it has for some time, it must pay for this excess spending with dollars printed and borrowed for that purpose. If the government has already mandated the spending, and/or already purchased goods and services as it clearly has, by pledging its heretofore unquestioned full faith and credit, then the people elected to run the government should not ignore that fact or stare blindly at that reality and limit the government’s credit line as if it had not already been pledged.
If they do, then they can accurately be described as (choose one, or more if applicable) irresponsible, unpatriotic, ignorant or delusional.
The most charitable description of what has been going on in Washington, D.C., for the last few months is that we are witnessing a “principled debate” over the proper method of financing the current debt while we reduce it in the future. Last time I checked there were two ways to do that — spend less or collect more revenue.
The two are not mutually exclusive. When your national debt is $14.3 trillion, a compelling argument can be made that “wise political leaders” ought to at least be willing to talk about both and not hold hostage the full faith and credit of the country they profess to love in order to satisfy their electoral and financial base’s preference for political theater over sensible public policy development and problem-solving.
In a recent obituary for former Virginia Congressman Richard H. Poff, he was quoted as deeply regretting his previous position in favor of school segregation, which he later repudiated. He explained his previous position by stating, “It is one of the lamentable frailties of mankind that when one’s wrong is most grievous, his self-justification is most passionate, perhaps in the pitiful hope that the fervor of his self-defense will somehow prove him right.”
That is yet another explanation for the behavior of our elected leaders now, which at least holds out the hope that what we’re seeing and hearing from them is fleeting and they will behave better very shortly.
Nevertheless, the current image of our elected leaders, with some notable exceptions, on both sides of the aisle pandering to their political and financial bases instead of doing their jobs is not pretty. Nor does the audio sound any better.
Why then is our most optimistic scenario for the future limited to hoping that what we’re currently experiencing is temporary?
The media at least pretend to search digitally — on cable television, on the Web and in print — for an explanation. They haven’t found it!
They have, however, whether by happenstance or habit, begun to focus on corruption — which is found in every society whether it be primitive or advanced as well as across geographic and demographic borders, in both public and private institutions and persons — as at least a partial explanation for what appears to be irresponsible or even irrational behavior.
Corruption — which diminishes public trust and confidence in political leaders, government officials, business and labor leaders, party officials and the media (witness Rupert Murdoch’s recent problems) — is increasingly visible as a result of the Internet. Corruption is increasingly noticeable in every continent and country as well as in international organizations.
From China through the emerging economies in Africa, Asia, and Latin America to the United States and the United Kingdom, corruption is examined and scrutinized in a way that is often unwelcomed by the business and political elites who are the targets of media focus.
The form and nature of corruption emerging in the 21st century and its relationship to our leaders’ behavior will be explored in future columns, which I hope will be written after they figure out how to maintain our country’s full faith and credit.
Steven I. Platt, a retired associate judge on the Prince George’s County Circuit Court, writes a monthly column for The Daily Record. He can be reached at [email protected]