Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Victories We Can't Afford

Statue of Gen. Nathanael Greene at Guilford Court House Battleground Park, Greensboro NC

On March 15, 1781 during the American Revolution, Gen. Nathanael Greene's army of Continental soldiers fought the British army of Gen. Charles Cornwallis at the Battle of Guilford Court House. Greene's army, though mostly composed of ragtag volunteers, fought admirably against the better trained British troop; indeed, at the height of the battle, it looked like the Americans might actually gain a significant victory over the British.

But for Cornwallis, defeat simply was NOT an option, certainly not for his well prepared soldiers against these fledgling colonial volunteers. So Cornwallis ordered his artillery to fire directly at the heart of the battle. The effect was devastating to the American troops and Greene and his men were forced to retreat, leaving the field...and the British troops. 

But at what cost? Cornwallis' tactic had in fact secured victory by inflicting many casualties upon his enemy; but that same tactic had killed a nearly equal number of his own men. Back in England, a member of Parliament, contemplating the cost of the war in terms of lives, weapons, supplies and money, remarked that England could scarcely afford more such "victories". 

I'm thinking of this moment in history because of the latest news on the US government shutdown. The U.S. Senate has approved a deal that will re-open the government and prevent the United States from defaulting on its debts.

Well, that's nice. Too bad we didn't have a deal 16 days ago to prevent all that then. No, wait! We did! Then the Republicans in the House of Representatives decided this would be the perfect opportunity to try ONE MORE time to kill the Affordable Health Care Act or Obamacare, if you will.

Note: My first vote I ever cast in an election was as a registered Republican. I am, in fact, still a registered Republican. A lot of my personal politics are centered around a strong defense, limited government and fiscal responsibility. Yet I've watched as more and more people come to power within the GOP who have shattered the viability of conservative governance by engaging in policies and strategies that are geared towards personal power and petty vindictiveness. 

In November 2008, after Barack Obama's first election as President, Sen. Mitch McConnell put this perspective in sharp focus when he declared the number one goal was to keep President Obama from a second term.  Really, Mitch? That's the number one goal, the defeat of a political enemy? I don't know, silly me would think there are more important objectives for you and other elected leaders to pursue, stuff like establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense, promoting the general welfare and securing the blessings of liberty. The stuff that's at the very beginning of the Constitution that hard right conservatives are always hitting people over the head with.

But when the person who's sitting in the White House is cast as the enemy who must be defeated at all costs and denied whatever he wants, how can we expect our system of government to function? Personally, I don't care who's President. In the end I want to know:

  • Are my taxes fair and not overly burdensome?
  • Are the taxes I pay being effective and efficiently used?
  • Can we as a nation defend ourselves from missiles and terrorists and other threats?
  • Am I free to live my life as I see fit?
  • Are the laws we have sufficient to offer protection, safety and order for our society?
  • Are we helping those who can't help themselves?
  • Are we staying out of the way as much as possible of those who can help themselves?

I could go on but the point I'm making here is this: is government doing what it's supposed to do? The ideology that guides the function of government can be important but it shouldn't override common sense and the needs of all Americans.

Tonight we celebrate that a deal has been reached and doomsday has been averted. But make no mistake: the damage has been done and it will take time to repair.

Treasury bills, for example, have taken a hit. T-Bills are a vital part of income protection and investment. They're not very exciting as the interest earned is so low. But they are safe and if the security of the investment is more important than the gains of the investment, then T-Bills have a significant function. But the government shutdown has prompted a selloff of treasury bills as their main strengths---security, dependability---have been compromised. 

Other countries that hold American debt are understandably nervous. China has a lot of American debt but as long as the American government is stable, that debt is an asset. When things turn into a circus as they have for the last two weeks, that debt is being viewed as a liability.

American money has been the preferred go-to for secure and trustworthy currency when other nation's currencies are lacking. When games are played with the functioning of the government behind that money, that sense of trust is weakened and further undermines America's economic strength which can also impede our influence over world affairs.

So yes, tonight we may have a victory through the Senate deal. Our government will re-open for business, we will honor our debts and investment markets will breathe a bit easier. Meanwhile, the Tea Party extremists will go back to their districts and claim victory in that they stood up to Obama and the Democrats while their re-election coffers beginning piling up with new donations.

Can we afford more such victories?

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