Monday, November 21, 2011

Trying Times

I've never really cared for self-help gurus. In my personal opinion, they tend to offer pat answers to complicated questions. (Note, however, that I don't say that they're necessarily wrong answers...) I suspect that I'm simply not in the target demographic, being the sort that is suspicious of simple answers to complicated questions.

But my ex-girlfriend was a big fan of Anthony Robbins, and we spent a good deal of time watching his videos. Most of which drove me up the wall. But during one video, he said something that really resonated with me. The scenario was simple - a woman in the crowd was having some sort of difficulty with her husband, they'd come to a compromise and she said that she would try to hold up her end of the bargain. Robbins pounced. I'd expected him to go Yoda-esque on the woman, but after an amusing sequence (amusing to us, anyway - it was frustrating for the woman) where Robbins asked her to "try to pick up that chair," he let off the hook and got to the point. Rather than an variation of "there is no 'try', there is do or do not," he said that when we set out to "try" something that we don't feel we can actually accomplish, what we are often doing is putting in enough effort (or the appearance of enough effort) that we feel we can't be blamed for failure.

Back when the "Supercommittee" to tackle the budget deficit was formed, the first thought that crossed my mind was: "They'll try." I think that other people agreed with me. There was already chatter that Congress would simply break the "Sequestration" rules they'd created for themselves; the only question was would the Republicans manage to block Democratic attempts to halt cuts to social programs while restoring defense spending, or would all of the "automatic" cuts be voted out of existence.

Now, Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington) one of the co-chairs of the Supercommittee, is one of my senators, and she's a nice enough lady. (Yes, I have actually met her face to face. Best $250 I've ever spent. My father was dead right - being a black person at a political fundraiser does make you one of the centers of attention.) But it takes more than being a nice person to break a budget impasse in Washington D.C., it takes someone who's willing to do what it takes to get the job done. And I could have told you from the start that Senator Murray was not that sort. Her job was to hold the line against Republican attempts to roll the Democrats yet again. If they reached a workable deal, so much the better. But the failure to reach a deal was seen as a better outcome than a bad deal, and so she tried. And so did everyone else. The fact that the finger-pointing started some time back is proof of that.

So what do we do now? Well, "we" do nothing. Anyone who thinks that the United States of America is unified in any meaningful way that doesn't involve chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" and/or hating/scapegoating/killing people in some other part of the world who we can blame for our troubles is, in my not particularly humble opinion, a naif. Look at the TEA Party and the Occupy Wall Street movement. Okay, so they aren't exactly on the same page. But they at least share the common goal of reducing the perceived influence of moneyed interests in Washington. But if you put a dozen people from each side in a room, you'd get a cage match worthy of Pay-Per-View long before they decided to sit down and see if it was worth working together to elect people they felt better represented then nation as a whole.

We all know that the path we're on is unsustainable. Even the Republicans have (mostly) given up on the fantasy that we'll simply borrow billions of dollars and that we'll use it to magically create some super economic juggernaut that will create such a flood of prosperity that we'll be able to pay off the debt without anyone actually having to pay a dime more than they want to in taxes. We can't do what we are doing forever, and that means one of two things - reduced government services or increased government taxes. And in the end, those are really just variations on the same thing - a lower standard of living. You're either paying more to get the same amount, or you're paying the same amount to get less. Or you combine the two, and you're paying more and getting less. Either way, that's money that can't be spent on flat-screen televisions, new paint for the house, gasoline, food or clothing.

The issue, at this point, isn't whether we're going to see a decline in our standards of living (although something could happen to get us out of this - it's happened before) it's when does it start, how far does the decline go, and how much damage to we do to things in trying to mitigate it. If we want to limit the impact, we really only have one option - we have to actually work together. That doesn't mean looking for "compromises" that are thinly veiled attempts to screw over other constituencies. It means understanding that is this important enough to do something unprecedented in this country: putting aside our differences and being okay with the idea that someone might get something that we're entitled to or in need of. There is no more time for trying, shifting the blame can no longer be the goal. We have to do this. One wonders if we consider it important enough.


Keifus said...

Hey Aaron, don't you have Seth Godin over there on the right? I have always had trouble seeing the difference between him and a self-help guru, which is basically why the MF drives me up the goddamn wall. Sure, sometimes he gets an obvious truth right, but, grrr....

Have Republicans really finally admitted that taxes create revenue? Or if you want, I don't think they imagine that anyone will pay a dime more in taxes, just that some people won't.


Aaron said...

That's a good point. I suppose that I don't read Godin enough to really see him as the self-help guru sort. Or maybe there's something about reading them that makes them more palatable than they are on video.

I think that there are still some Republicans that still think we're on the high side of the Laffer curve. But I'm starting to think that more of them are seeing the debt as a way of controlling spending - so they don't really want to pay it down, as that might free up money for things they don't like.