Last Wednesday, before President Obama outlined plans to reduce the nation’s deficit and debt, the AP’s Jim Kuhnhenn wrote of Mr. Obama’s taking on the challenge of “risking liberal anger and Republican scorn.” Such is the predicament of anyone—caught like Ulysses between Scylla and Charybdis—seeking reasonable solutions to the vexing problems of the budget.
Ideologues may wear their blinders comfortably, but middle-roaders—people with a social conscience who wish to maintain the economy’s long-term health—understand the inherent fallacy of black-and-white approaches. Two stories—one fictional and one real—present the plight of the overlooked pragmatist.
In “Fiddler on the Roof,” Nachum the beggar complains when Tevye offers him one kopek instead of the usual two. “If you had a bad week,” Nachum scolds, “why should I suffer?” The logic of the illogical gets a big laugh. It also raises important questions: Must Tevye, a hard working milkman struggling to provide for a wife and five daughters, reduce himself to Nachum’s circumstances? And what if many Nachums lived in Anatevka?
On a personal level, my friend Dan and I provided a ride to a bus stop to a woman we met at our synagogue who is in poor physical and emotional health. When I helped her out of Dan’s truck, she asked me for money. I gave her twenty dollars. She then asked for more. My twenty apparently wasn’t enough—not if she could figuratively get her hand into my wallet. I said no. I may be my brother and sister’s keeper, but am I also their ATM?
In the months ahead, the President will ask that the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy be rescinded after 2012. Conservatives will scream—although the ten states that extract from Washington nearly twice the money or more they send to the Treasury (Newsweek, 4-18-11) number eleven Republican senators to the Democrats’ nine.
I will support the President on this, and so will many middle-class Americans who understand that the debt problem requires both raising revenue and cutting expenses. But these taxpayers will continue to question government spending that increases the nation’s $14 trillion debt while failing to provide sound cost-benefit analyses and enabling health care and other costs to rise precipitously. They are not heartless. Nor are they mindless. They know from experience that some people want more—often far more—than that to which they are “entitled.”
Regrettably, “government-is-the-enemy” conservatives who now want seniors to enroll with private health insurers and “government-has-all-the-answers” liberals in love with victimization and hostile to financial success not their own continue to shout at each other from opposite mountain peaks—rocky perches bare of anything but ideological purity. In the valley below, hardworking men and women till the fields, and work in factories, mines and offices to provide for their families and help others to do so with gifts of money, food, clothing and time. As the 2012 budget takes shape, whose voices will be heard?
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