Wednesday, April 13, 2011

But Balance is Hard!

I was rather pleased with President Obama’s speech about the budget. What he laid out seemed to be exactly what he claimed it to be, and exactly what constitutes the only reasonable response to our current budget problems: a balanced approach. Yet there is a hefty proportion of the population that does not seem to recognize the need for balance, or the simple ethics of sharing the burden. And I think that fact is underscored by some of the introductory language of the speech that the president seemed to think necessary to include.

I am eager to see a breaking point in the volume of basic civic engagement and common sense whereby it will never again be necessary for a public figure to begin a speech such as this with an explanation of the very purpose of government and the social programs that it runs. Obama pointed out the listening audience that most people really hate government spending in the abstract, but love the things it pays for. I thought that was kind of a cleverly amusing comment, despite its obviousness and the frustration that comes of thinking that it shouldn’t, but does, have to be explained to people.

Why is the public filled with people who are not self-reflective enough to realize that that’s essentially the way they think? There must be many such people, because it’s only by virtue of their soft support that a proposal to simply hack health care and other important spending out of the budget can gain any traction.

Obama’s opening remarks also contained something of a soft reminder that the individual problems that government pays for, such as unemployment and getting old, might in fact happen to you at some point. This, too, is apparently something that people do not understand when they decry as “wasteful” the kind of spending that keeps people alive.

It is tragic that these considerations would be anything less than obvious to anyone, and all those people whose conservative ideologies reside in a basic failure to reflect on the nature of human life and human society need to be actively pushed towards a breaking point. We shouldn’t need to remind them of these things in policy speeches, and they do need reminding, it should come before that, and often. There are too many people in this country who have never been asked to confront certain kinds of human misery first hand. I’d like to see all the soft supporters of proposals like representative Ryan’s placed face-to-face with an ailing elderly person, a laid-off worker, or a financially struggling college student and see if they can look them in the eye and still say that refusing to alleviate their suffering is okay as long as it provides the nation with a quick fix.

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