Working here in Rome the last two weeks has been a welcome break from the heat back home in New York, not to mention the sound of alarms going off throughout the U.S. media about the impending debt ceiling debacle. Reading websites and blogs about the possibility of the U.S. defaulting on its debts for the first time in history, I'm reminded of the Clinton impeachment fiasco, which I also watched through the prism of overseas media while I was in South Africa for an extended trip in 1998.
In the short 13-year period since Clinton's great troubles, little of that partisan disgrace has figured much in the lives of its principal players. Hillary Clinton went on to soar in her own career as a senator, a vigorous combatant for her party's presidential nomination and secretary of state. Her husband is still a political figure of enormous influence in the world, still admired nearly everywhere he goes and still married to his wife. Monica Lewinsky is a footnote, as most sex scandal femme fatales usually become (Christine Keeler, Donna Rice). The Clinton impeachment, when moral compasses like Henry Hyde, Newt Gingrich and Bill Bennett wanted us to relocate our outrage, was the last great rumble in the Beltway schoolyard, other than the bloodshed of an actual election, until now. Now, partisan hatred is viewed a sidearm everyone should have the right, if not the need, to carry. And on the Hill, everyone seems to be packing.
However, did Americans really believe that this day would never come? Not the day of the Next Rumble. I mean the day America went broke.
Americans are, by any reasonable measure, extraordinarily giving people. We have given trillions upon trillions of dollars of our nation's wealth to the world's poorer people. And not always with strategic military or economic goals attached. Here at home, we provide government assistance to flood victims. Americans beset by fire damage, tornados and hurricanes. You can smoke all of your life and walk into a government-funded hospital and ask your fellow Americans to save your life. You can make the poorest nutritional choices known to mankind and get diabetes medication paid for by the government. You can go hiking in some crazy-ass, remote part of some national park and certain, caring fellow Americans will attempt to find you. People pay a lot of money in taxes here in America, but still find ways to give billions privately every year to help fight disease, care for the elderly, teach painting and dance, conserve precious open spaces, give scholarships on behalf of their alma mater, or send Girl Scout cookies to the troops.
Americans are caring. And what those who are opposed to raising the debt ceiling are essentially attempting to do is insist that we stop caring. That we stop doing one of the primary things that make this country what it is. That makes us who we are.
This bill was coming and you knew it. And if you didn't see it coming, then you should be very worried. Because you have a real problem. The war, brave men and women in the armed services aside, has been a disgraceful waste of this country's time, spirit, blood and money. They used to call it "Guns and Butter." Today, it's drones and frappuccinos. And guess what? Both of those choices on opposite ends of that axis cost a hell of a lot more money than they used to. So we want to circumnavigate the globe in the most tricked-out military gear, sticking our energy-sucking straw into every oil reserve we can buy or battle over, and not raise the funds necessary here at home to pay for that? We want to defer the exorbitant, latter-day costs of all that energy binging, masquerading as democracy "preachifying"?
Do you still actually believe that a gallon of gas costs you what it says at the pump? If so, why don't you put a tooth under your pillow, and when you wake up, your tank will be full.
How long did you think this could last? How much longer did you think a cadre of fully compromised, ethically bankrupt public officials would allow you to play in traffic before you got hit by the Reality Bus?
We... owe... the money. We elected incompetent fools/rapacious petrogarchs to high office. We gave them a credit card. They maxed it out. They got several more and maxed those out, too. And we are the co-signers.
Raise the debt ceiling, like every president has bitten the bullet and done. Raise taxes and take your medicine. You cared, innocently, about helping others. No shame in that. But simultaneously, you got married to a couple of idiots who blew all your money and left the whole family with nothing to show for it. Saddam's dead? Osama's dead? Is that gonna help you get a job? Pay your rent? Buy your kid some sneakers for school this fall?
Wake up. We gotta suck it up. Pay this bill. And have a loooooong talk about how we never get here again, while still maintaining our identity as a great country made up of great, caring people.