“We Have Met the Enemy and They Is Us”

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by Hayden Hollingsworth

Walt Kelly, on the first Earth Day in 1971, paraphrased Commander Oliver Perry’s message to General William Henry Harrison after the battle of Lake Champlain in 1813.  In the comic strip, Pogo was disconsolately looking at a polluted stream when he made his pronouncement.  The environment has improved greatly in the past 40 years, although much remains to be done.

As it turns out the battlefield has been broadened to much more than pollution, but it is still the same enemy: us. We are headed for a continuing financial crisis and given the recent performance of our elected officials, there is little room for optimism.

Every thinking person has seen this coming and most have been sickened by the lack of political will of our leaders.  There is more than enough blame to go around, but it is time to lay the battle plan on the table and stop pointing accusing fingers. I took Congressman Goodlatte at his word when he said he wanted to hear from me.  I told him that Congress had two choices.  They could protect their jobs with pointless political posturing or they could face the unpopular choices that will have to be made and risk loss of their congressional seats.

Needless to say, I did not hear back but he supported the bill (Morgan Griffith did not). Bob’s favorite point seemed to be an amendment to the Constitution for a balanced budget.  That’s a safe idea because it would never get the two-thirds vote to get out of Congress; they can’t get that many votes to agree on what time it is. Three-fourths of the state legislatures then have to ratify it; that would take years.  Most important, such an amendment does nothing to address the current fiscal mess.

We have seen what the Tea Party members of Congress have offered us:  Standing at the precipice on two banana peels.  If there were easy solutions (as they insist) they would have been found.  We are now faced with choices that no one wants but, as all our mothers told us, sometimes we have to do things we don’t like.

Congress has appointed a committee.  How innovative!  Remember the Simpson/Bowles Commission report last year?  It contained many proposals to address the federal deficit among which were Social Security cuts, tax reform, Medicare and Medicaid changes, along with decreases in discretionary and defense spending.  All are sensible; all are the third rail of political life. The report was ignored.  No politician wants to touch them because it seems tantamount to defeat at the polls.  It is totally disingenuous that a Super Committee will produce an “Aha!” moment for Congress.

Our government, at every level, needs to choose on which side they will fight this battle. Will it be to protect their jobs which consist of casting votes for a living?  Or will it be one of accountability and making the hugely unpopular choices that must be made, even it means going back to employment in the real world?

One would hope that the general disgust we, the people, feel for the performance of our elected officials will keep us from succumbing to the pap they constantly offer us.  We are the ones who will suffer if nothing serious is done.  We are the ones who must sacrifice to save the country.  The politicians will plod along pretty much unaffected.

During World War II everyone buckled down to gas, food, and shoe rationing.  We saved bacon grease, we walked instead of driving, and we saved scrap metal and paper.  Compared to what the Brits suffered, it was little more than an inconvenience. It was for a cause in which we all believed and few complained.  If we are to survive this economic crisis we must have the same willingness to make sacrifices, albeit of a different type and with less certainty of the outcome.

Congress can get this done and we can hope the electorate will not punish them for making hard choices.  If they choose to protect their jobs at our expense, then shame on them.  They are on vacation and now is the time to give them an earful.  At least they’re not in Washington arguing endlessly with those who hold opposing views.

It is truly the time for us to stop being our own enemy and work for what the Founding Fathers called the commonweal.  I hope we have the courage to make the sacrifices needed even if Congress doesn’t.

As Tom Paine said in 1776, “These are the times that try men’s souls.  The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country, but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

Listen up, citizens and leaders alike; it was true then and it’s true now.  If we’re not going to be part of the solution, then get out of the way. We are certainly a major part of the problem.