There’s something fundamentally boring and trivial about the hyperventilation over sequestration or taxation. Yes, I’m concerned about defense cuts — not because there isn’t room to cut, but because I have zero confidence that the bureaucratic process will yield the right result. I can easily imagine a process that leaves an intact military bureaucracy while gutting combat power. Yes, I’m also concerned about tax increases and wonder how it helps our country to take money out of my pocket and put it instead into programs that don’t actually work. But in both cases it’s like we’re arguing with the doctor over treating a runny nose when the patient is bleeding to death right before our eyes.
Paul Krugman’s latest proposed tax increase – a return to confiscatory tax rates so successful in maintaining our economic power that a triumphant Jimmy Carter coasted to a second term (What? That didn’t happen?) — would best case provide additional revenue in ten years that is still hundreds of billions of dollars less than our current single-year deficit. The sequestration defense cuts, allegedly so severe that Leon Panetta is threatening to resign, would have even less impact on the long-term deficit.
Saddest of all, Americans look at a crumbling political culture and blame . . . Washington. Yet are they not the people we elected? Heck, not even the Tea Party rank and file are eager to take on Medicare and Social Security. We can’t push the illegitimacy rate over 40 percent and believe that we’re creating a productive, self-sufficient culture. No politician made millions of Americans abort millions of children, nor did politicians make us embrace no-fault divorce in our own lives or rationalize divorce for our families, friends, and neighbors. It is not Washington that compels us to wallow in our own self-love and look everywhere else for solutions to problems we’ve helped create for ourselves with profligate personal spending and impulsive, self-indulgent lifestyles. When we embrace self-love to the point where many of our fellow citizens will kill their own children, we can’t hope that political reform will bring any real hope.
Yes, I participate in politics in the hope that the next election will make things better, not worse, but I’m under no illusions about the power of politics to transform. The fiscal mess is merely a monetary representation of the moral culture we’ve created, where we draw down on the cultural capital built through the blood, sweat, tears, and — yes — virtue of previous generations and instead bestow upon our children a counterfeit legacy of self-esteem over self-sacrifice, insufferable political correctness over humility, and abject dependence over generous self-reliance.
Arguments over marginal tax rates and slowed rates of inexorable spending growth do matter in the sense that their outcome can either hasten or delay a cultural collapse that appears increasingly likely. But let’s not take our eyes off the real prize — a culture in desperate need of moral and spiritual renewal.