Last night, in the official GOP response to President Obama’s State of the Union address, Republican rising star Paul Ryan, chair of the House Budget Committee, called the government deficit “one of my greatest concerns as a parent,” adding, “I know many of you feel the same way.” That couldn’t be more hilarious to me, because as I was sitting in the living room of some friends who are also parents, pre-gaming the SOTU with an episode of Hardball with Chris Matthews, I literally said to them, “I am so sick and tired of hearing Republicans say ‘What the people really want to talk about is the deficit. What the people really care about is the deficit.’ ”
First of all, how it is that any politician has the audacity to speak for “the American people” is beyond me. Unless you’re the President of the United States, you should probably stick to representing the people of the state you were elected to represent. There’s no way that people in New York feel the same way about the economy (and any other political issue) that people in Montana and Florida and Idaho do. Each state has its own economy and therefore its own economic issues, and each state has its own cultural climate as well. Often, the cultural climate is divided within a state, pitting the ideologies of urban and rural residents against one another.
That being said, one thing I feel for certain, being a lefty urban-dweller who was raised by rural righties, with the exception of politicians, no parent in this great country of ours goes to bed at night worrying about the deficit. Not a single one.
Sure, people across the country of every color and every socioeconomic strata go to bed worrying about money. How much money they have, how much money their kids will have, but I guarantee you, none of them tie their personal finances to the size of our government debt. If they did, they wouldn’t have sat idly by while George W. Bush blew the budget surplus created during Bill Clinton’s tenure. I can only assume Ryan is talking about GWB’s leadership when he says:
Millions of families have fallen on hard times, not because of our ideals of free enterprise, but because our leaders failed to live up to those ideals. Because of poor decisions made in Washington and Wall Street that caused a financial crisis, squandered our savings, broke our trust and crippled our economy. Today a similar kind of irresponsibility threatens not only our livelihoods, but our way of life.
Today a similar kind of irresponsibility threatens not only our livelihoods, but our way of life? What exactly do you mean, sir? I don’t know, because you didn’t go on to describe that “similar kind of irresponsibility” in any sort of detail. But that brings me to my next point. As I watched Hardball last night, something Chris Matthews – a known liberal – said really struck me. I’m paraphrasing here, but he said something to the effect of, “When I was a kid, we didn’t spend money on extras. There was no nightclubbing. My mother and father saved money for things like education.” A spendy-spendy, left-wing, hike-up-your-taxes-so-we-can-all-party-at-a-gay-wedding Dem said that, guys! You know who I didn’t hear say that? Paul Ryan. Or Michele Bachmann. Or any other Republican. In fact, I haven’t really heard anyone except the brilliant comedian Louis C.K. say, ostensibly, maybe this recession is a good thing. I mean, come on, we’re crying about hard times, but unless you’ve lost your house, has your lifestyle really diminished that much? (And if you’ve lost your house, how is it that you have an Internet connection to be reading Babble right now?) Make no mistake, I am in no way suggesting that a high rate of unemployment and/or foreclosure is acceptable because it absolutely is not. But I think most people with a roof over their head are sort of unfazed by this recession. Why? Because as my mother put it, “The economy in Central New York has always been recession-level, so this is nothing new for us.”
I think what “the American people” are worried about is not the government deficit, but the deficit they themselves feel. What “the American people” are dreaming about at night is closing the enormous gap between the rich and the poor in this country. My mother has mentioned to me numerous times that she doesn’t want to be rich, she only wants to be able to get by without worry. In other words, she wants to live a comfortable middle class existence, aka The American Dream. Is that greedy? I don’t think so. But it does make me think, as much as I felt encouraged by the belt-tightening Chris Matthews was advocating last night, inspired in my own life to be thrifty, less wasteful and more industrious (cause God knows I love a challenge!), I wonder now, why aren’t we asking the same thing of the rich? Why is it that the same politicians who preach about lowering the deficit refuse to ask the extremely wealthy in this country to pay their fair share?
The only deficit I ever think of when I go to sleep at night is the one I created for myself trying to live a lifestyle I couldn’t really afford. And that’s what being American is really all about. Keeping up with the Joneses. Now that we’ve hit a recession, some sense of financial sanity has been restored, and we’re all looking for advice from our leaders about how to get back on track. Thank God for Suze Orman, because she seems to be the only person on TV who knows what she’s talking about. That’s one non-partisan leader who truly puts her money where her mouth is. Maybe she should run the Treasury, girlfriend.
Photo: Paul Ryan Official Site