It was 1994. Republicans running for public office on their so-called “Contract with America” promised, among other things, budgetary reform; they gained control of the House for the first time in over 40 years. In 1995, the Republicans gained control of the Senate. In 2002, they controlled the House, the Senate, and the Presidency. What they delivered was ruinous budget deficits, setting records at the time. If any Republicans, other than Congressman Ron Paul, felt their policies were damaging to America, they didn’t speak up.
Now that they are in exile, Republicans complain about the political ignominy that they are suffering. A fair assessment is that their ignominy is well-earned. They have yet been able to articulate a credible alternative to the destructive policies of the Democrats.
It was 1998. The United Auto Workers, filled with pride and arrogance over having won another contract dispute with General Motors, marched victoriously through downtown Flint, Michigan. Did any of these union members fear that the rules, salaries, and benefits that they had negotiated would undermine the sustainability of the company? Those who harbored such fears were certainly in the minority. Now, eleven years later, General Motors is bankrupt; its stock price has fallen to an unfathomable $1 a share. And in Flint there are proposals to raze vast sections of the abandoned city and returning the land to green space.
It was May, 2009. Barack Obama and his wife Michelle received a thunderous standing ovation from the audience at a Broadway theater in New York. They were out on a “date.” Some objected to the hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money spent for the trip. The objections were dismissed with a cavalier explanation—President Obama had promised his wife a Broadway show. When asked how much the trip cost, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs gave a stumbling response: “I would say that the costs are proportionate with travel for presidents and I would encourage you to look up previous coverage on travel costs.”
Nowhere in Obama’s administration did there seem to be even a simple acknowledgement that millions of Americans are facing with very hard financial choices every day, and their tax dollars were funding his date. Of course, Obama’s date is just a symbol of the unprecedented waste going on daily in Washington as resources are hijacked from productive uses and redirected to non-productive uses.
By what principles are Obama and the Democrats in Congress governing? A fair-minded assessment is that their principles are about as discernible as those that the Republicans governed under. In other words, they haven’t any.
Those who don’t know how free-markets work accuse leaders of corporations of making shortsighted decisions for short-run profits. No doubt, that happens often enough. But the market corrects for this: Such corporations are selected against by the natural forces of the marketplace. Over time, as in the case of General Motors, they are the least able to fulfill the most compelling desires of consumers.
Democrats and Republicans really are alike. The evidence shows that nothing matters to them except amassing huge campaign war chests and winning the next election. Routinely they vote on bills that they have never even read. If being a principled leader and an honorable steward of the United States Constitution ever crosses their minds, they are afraid to express such sentiments.
Unlike the Republicans and General Motors, the downfall in popularity of Barack Obama is still months or years in the future. For now, he is still savoring the thrill of victory and the adulation of the crowds. Like the Republicans and like General Motors, his thrill of victory will be followed by the certainty of defeat for without principles one cannot lead; one cannot be at peace.
“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself; nothing, but the triumph of principles,” advised Ralph Waldo Emerson. “What will a man gain by winning the whole world, at the cost of his true Self?” asked Jesus.
In her book Soul-Kissed, Ann Linthorst tells a story of a “woman who was showing her spiritual teacher around her backyard….The teacher commented on the number of birds. The woman exclaimed. ‘Oh, I have never noticed any birds out there before.’ Her teacher replied, ‘Madam, you must have birds in your heart before you will find birds in your backyard.’”
The “birds” that our politicians do not have their hearts are timeless, clearly articulated values and principles and the integrity to hold to them. Before this economic crisis is over, the Democrats will take their rightful place beside the Republicans, both held in contempt by the public.