Spurious spin, political prevarications, deliberate distortions, flagrant falsehoods, and plain ol’ outrageous whoppers. That aptly describes the state of our union’s political discourse, as was made abundantly clear by this week’s State of the Union address and the predictable reaction to it.
It’s as we’ve decided the truth about the state of the union — and it’s many underlying problems — is so frightening we’d rather listen to regurgitated platitudes replayed on an endless loop, and then we’re amazed the problems still exist when nothing changes and the status quo continues unabated.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama urged investment in the nation’s infrastructure — but every president since, and including, Ronald Reagan has urged investment in the nation’s infrastructure. We just don’t do it. (How soon we’ve forgotten the Minnesota bridge that collapsed during rush hour traffic in 2007, killing 13 and injuring hundreds more.)
President Obama spoke of investing in and developing renewable energy — but every president since, and including, Jimmy Carter, has urged the development of renewable energy. We just don’t quite commit to it, though other countries have succeeded at doing so and their economies have flourished as a result.
One could probably research the last 50 years of presidential state of the union addresses and find remarkable similarities of goals and policies that our presidents have urged the nation to undertake, and yet we consistently fail to do so.
Part of the reason may be what Jack Nicholson’s character in “A Few Good Men” shouted in the classic courtroom scene: We can’t handle the truth.
And the uncomfortable truth is that after World War II, our nation and its citizens made sacrifices, shared pain, worked together for the common good and steadily paid down our national debt for 40 solid years.
Every presidential administration, of both political parties, succeeded in paying down the national debt, dramatically and consistently, even while undertaking the expense of launching a space program and putting a man on the moon.
Paying down the national debt stopped in the early 1980s, when, under former President Ronald Reagan, the nation first began deficit spending, intentionally reducing incoming revenue below spending levels. Our 40-year graph of national debt reversed its downward slide and has climbed upward ever since. Our political leaders — presidents and Congress — have played accounting games to hide deficit spending, and obscure the increase in debt, as if the pretense could replace the reality.
In the ’90s, President Bill Clinton and Congress “borrowed” from the excess (and until then very solvent) Social Security funds to pretend we had a balanced budget, though the real national debt continued to climb.
President George W. Bush chose to account for the Afghanistan and Iraq war expenses “off-budget,” so his deficit spending and debt increase would appear artificially lower than it truly was. The cost of conducting two wars wasn’t added to the budget deficit numbers (and thus the national debt) until Bush left office, artificially raising the numbers for the next president, Obama.
Only Ron Paul, Republican presidential candidate, is even talking about our national debt these days. The idea of what it will take to once again pay down our national debt, to share the pain, to sacrifice for the good of the nation, for the state of our union, isn’t even on our national radar screen.
Instead, we have political leaders and candidates for president trying to one-up each other on how much of a tax cut they will promise their supporters and cash-flush campaign contributors, as though the lessons learned from successfully paying down the debt from WWII didn’t exist and aren’t worth noting.
It’s as if the more outrageous the lie we’re told, the louder we applaud.
What we need to hear, digest and discuss is the painful truth we’ve been ignoring for 30 years: Shared sacrifice and working together for the good of the nation is an absolute necessity.