Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The nationís house is on fire

We Americans are getting the government we voted for.

In the 2010 elections, just two years after the mortgage-driven crash on Wall Street, voters decided to end the Democrats' two-year majority in Congress and to put the U.S. House of Representatives back into the hands of Republicans who swore they would never raise taxes. With a Democratic president and a Senate hamstrung by its own filibuster rules, the election threw the nation into gridlock.

This week's failure of the so-called congressional "super committee" to come to agreement on a budget deal is just the latest manifestation of gridlock.

Its ripple effects are manifesting themselves nationwide. High unemployment, low job creation, a stagnant economy and creaky infrastructure are now the hallmarks of American society—and Congress has proven itself unable to do much to change them. The failure has left families, businesses and the government itself walking on thin economic ice.

We need to fix these problems. Why can't we? Unemployment, low wages and high costs are not exclusive to supporters of a particular party. They're problems that span all age groups and all affiliations. Teetering bridges, crumbling highways and lousy mass transit operations affect everyone, rich or poor.

We know how to fix the problems. The Great Depression taught us that public investment in public infrastructure benefits businesses and the public and puts people to work. It taught us that public investment spurs private investment, brings dividends to the federal government in the form of higher tax revenues and ends the downward spiral.

Why is it that the nation can't apply the lessons learned in the '30s and '40s? Why can't we agree to regulate banks and investment houses to keep them from running blindly off a cliff—and taking us with them? Have we forgotten our history?

The answer may be worse than merely a bad memory. As a nation, we may not recognize that the bad economy and political gridlock are a deadly combination.

The Occupy Wall Street movement may be a sign that the nation is finally waking up to this mortal economic threat.

If so, the next question is, will we act? Will we come together and insist that elected leaders lead by coming together to fix what ails us? Will we insist—at the polls next November—that elected leaders answer to voters instead of big business and calculating ideologues?

If we finally perceive the seriousness of the threat, perhaps we will.

The nation's house is on fire and ideologues can't put it out. We need cool-headed firefighters, good fire trucks and enough water to put the fire out.

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