Politics & Policy

A Matter of Self-Respect

The culture of bailout.

If it’s good enough for Lincoln, it’s good enough for me. Why isn’t it good enough for them?

The bailout mess continues unabated. More and more companies line up for their place at the feed trough, and who is to say why one company or industry should get federal — that is, your — money, and another should not? It is, as many of us predicted, a bottomless pit. There is no end in sight.

Well, like the rest of the country, I’ve run up some debts myself, and like the rest of the country, I’ve been doing my bare-bones minimum to “service” them — I pay as little as I can without them going into collection. It’s a manageable cost for me (financially, anyway) and I’ve always preferred to buy some new hotness rather than accelerate payments on the old and busted.

But I’ve been rethinking this of late. One of the great things about reading history is the fundamental perspective that it brings. There have been a lot of comparisons of this current mess to the Great Depression. My dad lived through the Great Depression, and the only time I ever saw that man cry was when he talked about watching his neighbors eating out of garbage cans. We seem to be a long way from that — at least, I certainly hope so. I suspect a lot of sentiment to the contrary stems from the hysterical nature of today’s news manufacturing hysterical citizens.

Still, I like reading about the trials of people whose character I greatly admire, even if I’ll probably never face similar trials myself. I hope to steal a little of that character for myself, if I am able. And of all the people I admire, none surpasses our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.

Long before he became a national figure, Lincoln went into partnership on a grocery store. At the time, he would spend months on the frontier surveying, leaving his partner to run the store. The partner took on terrific debt, and then died, leaving Lincoln holding the bag for $1,100. This was an almost-unimaginable sum for a poor young man in the first half of the 1800s.

Lincoln could have skipped out on his debt, but he didn’t. He referred to it as “The National Debt,” and it took him many, many years of hard work to pay it off. Later, when as president he was arguing for compensated emancipation — that is, paying slaveholders for their slaves — he dealt with the issue of paying of debt by saying,

Certainly it is not so easy to pay something as it is to pay nothing, but it is easier to pay a large sum than it is to pay a larger one. And it is easier to pay any sum when we are able than it is to pay it before we are able.”

Well, I have taken that advice, and started to pay down some of my debts. And I feel a strange happiness as I do so. I don’t know what it is, exactly — except perhaps the small voice of self-respect welcoming me back to the world of adults and responsibility. And perhaps, that indestructible kernel of self-respect will come in as handy to me in my relatively minor crises as it was to Mr. Lincoln in his far greater ones.

And how I wish that small voice could make itself heard in congressional hearings in Washington these days. For that whispering voice of responsibility will lead us out of these woods, if we would only listen to what it is trying to tell us.

— Bill Whittle lives in Los Angeles and is an on-air commentator for www.pjtv.com. You can find him online at www.ejectejecteject.com


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