A number of our political leaders, especially President Obama, have commented recently on the crisis in confidence that the public seems to have in our major institutions, both public and private. If one accepts the premise that such a crisis in confidence exists, then it complicates the ability of the country to handle the truth about the government budget deficits. Political leaders often underestimate the public on matters such as this. If our leaders set forth principled goals regarding the budget and then acted on those principles, I think they would find a receptive public. It is when leaders say one thing and then do the other that people become confused and infuriated.
For example, if a political party proclaims that it is for small, limited government and balanced budgets and then it enacts policies that are contrary to those proclamations, it leaves the public with a cynical feeling. If a political party insists that the country can have "guns and butter" without adding to the financial burdens of the majority of its citizens, it leaves everyone with a feeling of deep skepticism. So what we end up with is a risk-averse political culture that speaks to us in euphemistic truths.
One way to break the cycle is for a group consisting of past U.S. presidents and congressional leaders to issue a manifesto about the financial condition of the country. This document would have to be in plain language and would have to convey to people what the dangers are to each citizen on a personal level. It is possible that the public discussion around such a document could create a political environment that would allow elected officials to make the tough choices without fear of negative repercussions at the ballot box. It is certainly worth a try.
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