Blame and Punish? Or Join Forces?

The fundamental point behind efforts to resolve our nation’s and cities’ fiscal problems must be to remember that we are all in this together

In the 1940s, this country faced a formidable challenge — defeating Hitler and the Axis powers. We the people didn’t cause World War II, yet as a nation we united to win it. Young men went off to fight. At home we put up with inconveniences like rationing — because it just plain had to be done.

Now we face a challenge that while different in kind is also critical — pulling our nation out of its unsustainable debt. This time the approach is very different as well: Instead of pulling together as one, we want to blame and punish.

Some want to blame public unions and punish them with pay and benefit reductions. Others want to blame wealthy people and punish them with tax increases. Still others want to blame people who are impoverished or disabled or out of work and punish them with denial of or reductions in government benefits. What does that get us? A country ripped apart at the seams and without enough collective resources to win.


Facts to face

As we look at the fiscal issues that now face our nation, states and cities, we might as well accept a few facts.

First, the deficits and debt we face were rung up by both parties in our collective name. We fought (and still fight) wars on the credit card. We charged a Medicare drug plan. We bailed out banks and ran a stimulus program with borrowed money. Whether we happen to approve of these actions is now immaterial. They are done, we have the bill, and we own it collectively, as a nation.

Second, we’re going deeper into debt not solely because of government policies but also because of a lingering recession that, again, as individuals, we did not create.

Third, our “entitlement” programs, notably Medicare, are not sustainable as now structured, and were known not to be even before the recession hit. To think both can survive without change of some kind is to engage in wishful thinking.

Fourth, we both spent and tax-cut ourselves into this hole. Endlessly repeating the phrase, “We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem,” doesn’t make it true. We have both, and we will have to spend-cut and tax-raise our way out.


Toward solutions

If we accept those fairly incontrovertible facts, we have a start toward solving the problem. The rest of the solution depends on each of us owning the problem. No, we didn’t cause it, but the burden now rests on all of us. Who’s going to fix it if not us?

Right now, we seem to believe in shared sacrifice — but only as long as someone else makes it. What we need is shared sacrifice from everyone. That means private- and public-sector entities alike. It means people from one end of the economic scale to the other. That includes people who have very little, even if their contributions are token and largely symbolic.

As was true during World War II, helping with the effort in proportion to one’s ability is part and parcel of being a citizen of this county. If our collective attitude is, “How can I help?” then we will be well on the way toward getting the job done.

Of course, that inevitably leads to the long, difficult and messy discussion of exactly what kind of a country we want to live in, and how much we are willing to pay for it. But in the end, that’s more productive and better for the national soul than lying back and trying to figure out whom to blame and punish. F

Comments on this column or about any article in this publication may be directed to editor Ted J. Rulseh, 877/953-3301;


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