LLOYD GRAY: We’ve really gotten what we asked for

By Lloyd Gray/NEMS Daily Journal

It is the practice of political candidates to flatter their constituents or, if they’re not yet in office, the people whose votes they seek.
In this era of heightened concern about government spending and the national debt, and even on the state level about bonded indebtedness, it’s common to hear something like this from candidates:
“Government needs to do what families do. It needs to stop spending more than it takes in. Families have to make tough choices to live within their means and government should, too.”
Of course the truth is that most families don’t live within their means, if by that is meant not spending more than we take in. Home mortgages and vehicle loans are just two of the most pervasive examples of family debt.
But beyond those two staples, it’s been common practice for a long time for many if not the majority of American families to pile up debt for the things we want, when we want them. All that’s necessary to confirm that is to look at the upward spiral of consumer debt in the U.S. over the past 20 years or so.
When the economic calamity hit in 2008, there followed a brief period in which credit card and other consumer debt went down. And unquestionably those who’ve lost jobs have had to make real adjustments.
In recent months, however, household debt has begun to climb back up, and in line with the contradictory messages we often hear about the economy, it’s considered good news when people start to spend more – even if they have to go further in hock to do it.
In short, frugality long ago ceased to be a defining element of our national character. It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that government is having such a spending-and-debt problem.
If the politicians attempt to flatter us, we flatter ourselves if we believe there’s not a connection between our behavior and what happens in Washington.
It’s our tendency to think of the political world as an entirely separate realm from the real world, and in some ways it is. Nobody else has the capacity to take other people’s money – legally, that is – and either give it back to them or to somebody else. But in the broad sense, what happens in government, more often than not, is a reflection of what’s already happening in the culture. In other words, most of the time, government is a reflection of us. We get the government we ask for.
For many years, we’ve demanded that government increase services at no extra cost to us. In fact, we want more for less. Increase services – a Medicare prescription drug benefit, for example – but cut taxes while you’re at it. We’ve punished any politician who suggested we couldn’t have it all.
Now some are suggesting we can’t, and whether Republican or Democrat, they’re exposing themselves to the other side’s assaults and in many cases to recriminations from their own political base.
What’s our job in this? Support those who are willing to make the tough decisions – the ones we’re flattered to think we’re making ourselves.
Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@journalinc.com.