There are times when I find it challenging to write about a subject that is currently the subject of intense public debate and concern because I find that the terms of the ongoing discussion so thoroughly and purposefully obscure what is really at stake. The drama about raising the debt ceiling, currently being played out in the Washington, D.C., political theater on Capitol Hill, is a case in point. Even the freshmen in the U.S. House of Representatives who are sincere in their efforts to represent the folks who elected them seem willing to discuss the subject as if the decision involved is simply a matter of trade-offs that limit or increase the government’s indebtedness in exchange for corresponding action with respect to taxes and spending.
In this respect, the debt-ceiling debate resembles the inner struggle that junkies or other addicts must experience during the rare and lucid moments when some inescapable choice forces them to confront the terrifying reality of the utterly ruined life they face in consequence of their addiction. Perhaps their beloved spouse threatens to leave with the children if they don’t seek help. Perhaps a longtime employer issues the ultimatum brought on by their inability to perform. In exchange for a reprieve that postpones the day of reckoning, they may promise to control their snorting, boozing, beating or promiscuity (fill in the blank). A little more of this, a little less of that and, you’ll see, they can handle the situation.
Of course, people experienced in dealing with the machinations of addiction will recognize the promises of this “I’m in control” delusion for what they are – symptoms that the addicts have not yet confronted the gripping reality of their condition, and that the fundamental act of self-admission that at least offers some hope of recovery has not yet taken place. The first step toward that recovery is for addicts to admit that their plight is not just a consequence of what they do, but of what by doing it they must inevitably become.
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When it comes to the elected officials spawned by the current radically corrupted way of doing politics (what I think of as the New Deal syndrome), the first step toward such acceptance is to admit that the prospect of America’s financial ruin is not just a matter of increasing indebtedness, spending or taxes. It is what America must inevitably become if we continue to live with the current way of doing politics. The current twin-party sham turns every elected official into a government “user,” in the same sense that a heroin or cocaine addict is a user. But in this case their habit impels them to become dealers, political kingpins who turn the constituents of their patronage networks into users, whose government-addicted votes give them purchase upon the heights of government power from which to feed their unceasing appetite for its substance.
What sense does it make to accept the pretense that government can be brought to borrow less, spend less or control the taxing effect of its activities upon America’s economic life when the personnel who decide upon and carry out these actions are put in place by a system dependent upon a supply of government patronage that cannot be maintained without ever more borrowing, more spending and more manipulation of the tax burden.
Whatever the results of the drama currently playing itself out in the political theater, the nation faces a fundamental decision that cannot be made by politicians hopelessly caught up in the government-addicted premise of that drama’s exposition of the tragic flaw in the currently accepted way of doing politics. It must be made by the people. They alone can decide to reject the assumption of government dependency imposed by the New Deal syndrome. They alone can decide to reject the false notion that it’s the government’s job to assure the welfare of individuals, when in fact government exists only to serve the common good. They alone can reassert their determination to live as a people who accept the God-ordained responsibilities that give them the right to care for each other as individuals, in natural and voluntary communities free of pre-emptive government dictatorship. They alone can assert and re-establish the integrity and liberty of those institutions of family, faith and economic enterprise that are the God-endowed natural means of fulfilling this responsibility. They alone can reclaim control of the income and other material resources required to do so.
Americans will not break the habit of government spending, borrowing and taxation until they renounce the temptations of government solicitude and dependency and the “bribe me” party politics that connives to exploit them. They will not have confidence enough to resist those deceptive temptations until they rediscover the resources of faith and moral courage that mainly arise from living out the motto that was and ought still to be the openly flaunted secret of their economic aspiration, the slogan that placed their trust in God, not government.