4.12.2011

Who Are the Cowards


It is easy to label our congressional representatives as cowards for continuing to punt on the hard issues we need to face up to as it relates to our national deficit. Republicans don't want to give in on tax hikes, Democrats don't want to give in on spending cuts, and so we have compromise "solutions" that are no solution at all, or we have threats to shut the whole thing down. Man up, many of us seem to be saying, and make the hard decisions, instead of caving in to special interest. Think of the long-term damage we are blindly heading into, we warn, instead of just thinking about what will get you elected in two to four years.

Ah, but there's the rub. How often in our professional lives do we see past our immediate self-interest to do what is best for the greater good? Wouldn't we also take actions to make sure our jobs were secure first, no matter how grand our promises were to "make this world a better place" in our initial interviews?

And, in a representative democracy, if our elected officials are making decisions to avoid popular blowback, isn't that kind of the same as them acting out "the will of the people"? Aren't we just as complicit in our attitude of short-sightedness, by the messages we are conveying to them about what our wishes are?

In fact, I would argue that we are worse, in a sense, than they are. We all want our perk, and we want it at no cost to ourselves, or at least make someone else pay for it. Republicans talk about reigning in spending, but when the spending cuts affect the things they're interested in, all of a sudden they get indignant. Democrats heap indignation on anyone who would suggest cutting our entitlement programs, not realizing that if we don't get our fiscal act together, those entitlements are going to choke out our ability to pay for any discretionary social spending.

You can excuse our congressional representatives for wondering how to respond to such mixed messaging. Elected officials act with some degree of logic in this context when they act "cowardly" and punt the issue ahead to the next Congress or the next generation. Because they see those who put them in power essentially asking for them to do just that. And the hole we are digging ourselves into keeps getting deeper.

To be sure, I'm not letting Congress completely off the hook. They do need to show a spine, they do need to learn to work together, and they do need to deal directly with the big problems and not obfuscate or spin.

But we need to take some responsibility, too. "We the People" are still the ones in charge in this country still, aren't we? The bill has come due, and it seems to me we prefer to scold others for ordering too much or guilt someone else into paying more because they make more than we do, rather than settling our accounts and moving on.

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