The preamble to ‘The Moment of Truth’, the report of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility, makes a brief and powerful plea for paying attention to the recommendations which follow. I found it oddly moving – not a word I often use about a government document – and I am willing to put aside cynicism and accept it as a sincere representation of feelings which were formed during the months of discussion the members of the commission held. If the calls for tough choices are indeed heartfelt, then I feel sorry for the commission members who have glimpsed an impending tragedy but have only congress to call on for salvation.
The following passage appears in the preamble:
Ever since the economic downturn, families across the country have huddled around kitchen tables, making tough choices about what they hold most dear and what they can learn to live without. They expect and deserve their leaders to do the same.
This sentence reads well, but I think it inadvertently points to one of the problems. Who exactly is the family pictured? Legislators? The word picture as presented pre-supposes healthy, functional families whose members are a distinct unit who care about one another and share a vision. What picture comes to your mind when you think of that ‘typical’ family? I think of parents who earn the money and also have the final say as to its disposition. Those parents might indeed choose to go without so that their children can benefit, but it is their own money they are dispensing. Or perhaps that family has multiple children and some children might work in order to support one sibling’s education. The college bound sibling, in turn, accepts a debt that needs to be repaid and a responsibility to shoulder.
That family is a far cry from Congress. The picture doesn’t work when those who spend the money are completely removed from those who earn it. . It doesn’t work when some family members are addicted to power just as it won’t work if some family members are addicted to gambling or alcohol. It doesn’t work when the family cannot have an honest conversation because members of the family are willing to lie, exaggerate and use manipulative language to gain points with a third party. If legislators are the family under discussion, they seem more like a caricature of a Victorian father with unlimited power whose behavior leads to misery from those unfortunate enough to be under his control.
There are certainly tough fiscal decisions ahead. The family analogy presupposes a healthy family whose priority is a commitment to the common good. It presupposes maturity and wisdom on the part of those making the decisions. There is a revealing word in the last sentence I quoted. Our elected officials are not our ‘leaders’. They are our public servants. If they began thinking of themselves as such the electorate might begin to think that they could actually cope with this nation’s economic crisis.