The dilemma facing the next president
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Now that the election process is over, the next question is whether it will be possible for the next president to resolve the dilemma he has inherited from his predecessor ” major domestic and international problems ” in the face of a runaway national debt.
Our economy is on the rocks as a result of the “get government regulation out of the way so businesses can grow” philosophy of the Reagan and Bush administrations, putting the foxes in charge of the hen coop, resulting in the wild excesses which precipitated the meltdown of the financial markets. Unemployment is growing, jobs are being sent overseas, the stock market is hemorrhaging, increasing numbers of Americans are financially strapped by a combination of income erosion, excessive personal indebtedness, and a rising cost of living driven by the high price of gasoline, increasing food costs, and the unaffordable cost of health care.
We are also facing the critical issues of our dependence on petroleum as our primary source of energy, and the global warming effect of our steadily increasing discharge of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels. We have to reverse what eight years of Bush-Cheney support for the petroleum industry has cost us, and desperately need a crash program to develop alternative energy sources to make up for lost time.
But how do we address all these needs with an overwhelming national debt which is now headed for $11 trillion and declining revenues as a result of a floundering economy? How can we bring any sense of fiscal responsibility into play without increasing taxes? But that, we are being told, would hurt the economy. The only alternative is to cut the cost of government. Trimming programs which benefit the public (education, health care, unemployment, food and housing assistance, and Medicare and Social Security) would not be enough to have any significant effect unless they were drastically cut, which would have catastrophic social consequences. That leaves the biggest item in the federal budget ” military spending ($600 billion plus the cost of the Iraq War), which we will discuss later. But the real 800-pound gorilla in the room is the interest on our growing national debt ” currently about $250 billion a year. And with a rising debt and a declining dollar, we are going to have to pay a higher rate of interest in the future to induce foreign buyers (who are essential to our solvency) to continue to buy our bonds. Our government is in the same fix as so many Americans who have spent their way into overwhelming credit card debt.
That brings us to our international situation. We have to recognize the U.S. is no longer as dominant a superpower as we were in the last century, and must adjust our foreign policy accordingly. We have squandered our prestige, our military hegemony, and our financial resources, on the Iraq fiasco ” like so many powers which have collapsed because they couldn’t afford the cost of their wars. Teddy Roosevelt’s policy was “Speak softly, but carry a big stick.” But we no longer have the big stick, so we have to tone down our rhetoric and cease provocative actions against Russia, the unintended consequences of which could become the slippery slope leading to war.
In the Cold War, we embarked on an arms race with Russia which eventually broke their economy. Now the shoe is on the other foot ” Russia is growing wealthy selling oil and gas to Europe; and with our massive indebtedness, we are in no position to get into another arms race. We need to rely less on military posturing and more on diplomacy, which will require more give and take. We can’t have it all our way like we used to. Instead, we should start taking a leadership role in the world to confront the common threats of worldwide energy, water, and food crises, and global warming.
We can only hope our new president and Congress have the will and the wisdom to put concern for the future of both our country and the rest of the world above party politics and catering to special interests; and instead devote all their attention to restoring our economy and our leadership in meeting the serious challenges facing all of mankind.
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