The Rhetoric of a Debtor Nation


What happened was, Wall Street got drunk.

     -President George W. Bush

We should open a criminal investigation into the compensation and practices of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac executives.

      -Texas Sen. John Cornyn

We should open an investigation into short selling practices.

      -New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo

(SEC Chairman) Christopher Cox should be fired.

      -Sen John McCain

It’s not your probl… I mean, it’s not your fault.  It’s not your fault.  It’s the fault of a corrupt Washington.  It’s the fault of a corrupt Wall Street.

     -Sen. John McCain


The American way of life is non-negotiable.

    -George H.W. Bush, 1992

Me.  And you.  And you.  And you, and you , and you.

     -Sen. Robert Kennedy, when asked who was at fault for the Bay of Pigs debacle

Yep, son.  We have met the enemy, and he is us.


The only thing more dispiriting than the implosion of our financial infrastructure is the headlong rush by our “leaders” to blame it on someone, anyone, other than the citizens who brought it on.  Newsflash:  Wall Street is greedy.  No shit, and barracudas bite.   But the crisis facing us has far more to do with family down the block becoming disconnected from one of the central, kitchen-table tenets of what formed their parents’ moral code:  don’t live beyond your means.

I suppose it’s utterly unrealistic to expect anything other than pandering and demagoguery in an election season.  But here’s what this election’s equivalent of Barry Goldwater might say about the real roots of and solution to America’s most urgent affliction:

This nation has many assets:  hard-working people, vast natural resources, and an unparalleled entrepreneurial spirit.

But over the past generation, our liabilities have piled up to a level which is unacceptable.  Only 25 years ago, the average family saved 9 cents of every dollar it earned.  Today, that household saves nothing–in fact, it probably spends more than it earns.

A generation ago, we imported only 15 percent of our energy needs.  Today, we rely on foreign countries–many of them hostile to our interests–to keep our lights on and our houses heated.

A generation ago, we prided ourselves on being a creditor nation.  Today, we have a national debt of almost $10 trillion, most of that held by foreign governments, and our ability to pay off that debt becomes less likely by the day.  This year alone we will add a half trillion dollars to our national debt, and pay another half trillion in interest.  Half a trillion dollars in interest.  That’s what it costs to live beyond our means, and the cost goes up every year.

If we continue down our current path, by protecting every earmark, entitlement, and tax cut, the America of your sons and daughters will be a bankrupt nation.  That is a statement of fact.  It has nothing to do with our ingenuity as a citizenry; it has nothing to do with how hard our citizens work.   It ‘s just simple arithmetic.

But it has everything to do with the fact that we have long been a nation in denial.  For too long, we have had the attitude that President Bush expressed in 1992, when he said that “the American standard of living is non-negotiable.”  Well, it’s my bad fortune, 16 years later, to tell you that he was wrong.   It’s time to negotiate.  And the longer we wait, the weaker our negotiating position will get. 

This nation has stood up courageously to its enemies abroad:  fascism, communism, Islamic extremism.  We also have bravely taken on our enemies at home, particularly poverty and racism.

Today, as your President, I would like to declare that the most dangerous enemy facing our company is Debt.  The enemy wins whenever a family spends more than it earns.  And the enemy really wins when the *nation* spends more than it earns.  Defeating this enemy will not be easy, and victory will not be quick.  But I would ask that you join with me over the coming months in creating a national conversation about defeating this common enemy.  As your President, I can tell you that nothing is more important to the future of your children.  And as a patriot, I can say that nothing is more important to me.  We need to wage nothing less than a War on Debt.

Good evening, and God bless America.

Okay, it probably wouldn’t happen exactly like that.   But I’ve become interested in the idea of national frugality as a moral imperative.  If you’ve come this far, it probably means that you’ll be subjected to more.





One Response to The Rhetoric of a Debtor Nation

  1. […] I stick up for future generations more than most people with a whole brood (see here, here, and here, and here.).  But that’s obviously for readers to […]

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