Debate Not Hate

By Louis Avallone

As this election season draws to a close, there are some who might say that America today is more polarized than at any time in its history. And this goes behind the mere partisan disagreements, or bickering, regarding taxes, healthcare, immigration, education, or even more fundamentally, the role of government itself.

Although many Americans are divided on the issues today, the fact is…they always have been. Going back to the election of 1824, no President has ever been elected with more than about 60 percent of the American people’s support. It is expected (and encouraged) that Americans will disagree on what candidate should occupy the highest office in the land, but that alone doesn’t necessarily mean that America is polarized, or polarizing, which is altogether more sinister to our union.

I’ll explain. You see, the polarization of America is defined by the extent to which public opinion is divided into the extremes, which is often encouraged by factions, within a political party, in order to gain dominance in their respective party. The casualties, unfortunately, are the moderate voices, which often lose power and influence, as a consequence.

But unlike simple partisanship, polarization is more akin to when a candidate for public office is thought of as dishonest or evil, or when a candidates’ ideology is thought wholly wrong, while another’s ideology is considered free of error altogether. In other words, polarization is bad because it doesn’t allow compromise, whatsoever.
And depending on when you are reading this column (before or after this November’s election), and whichever side of the aisle you may sit, or stand, it is more important than ever that Americans return to a healthy partisanship, at least, on the issues, not polarization; and come together as one nation, under God, and indivisible.
How? Well, we can start, I think, with identifying some issues that we can all agree upon, that represent the best of America: The Bill of Rights. Hot dogs. Apple pies. Navy SEALS. Seinfeld (yadda yadda yadda). Steve Jobs. Disneyworld. Girl Scout cookies. Movie theater, buttered popcorn. Can we also agree that, sooner or later, the Monday after the Super Bowl must become a national holiday? Elvis. Free elections. Peanut M & Ms. Fresh, hot donuts.

And while these are important issues on which we can all reach some consensus, there’s one more issue that requires our consensus as well, whether Democrat or Republican. It’s an issue that stands out as one of the fastest growing priorities in our nation today, with nearly 69% of Americans now calling it a “top priority”: It’s the federal budget deficit.

It is so important, in fact, that the president of the Pew Research Center has said “In my years of polling, there has never been an issue such as the deficit on which there has been such a consensus among the public about its importance.” One problem is that the same percentage of the public who call this issue a “top priority”, are neither willing to reduce spending nor raise taxes to address the issue.

So, what’s at stake? Well, our federal debt is near $16 trillion now, and by the time you finish reading this column, the U.S. debt will have grown by approximately $4.4 million. It’s difficult to gain perspective on the crisis, when the numbers become so large. Folks sometimes use analogies to illustrate the dilemma, such as by saying that if you were to spend a dollar every second, it would take you 32,000 years to spend $1 trillion (or a mere one-sixteenth of the debt).

Others explain it by comparing the federal government’s finances to your own household budget. If you manage your finances, like Congress manages the federal government’s, then your expenses, for example, would be $38,200, with a household income of only $21,700. And then, to add to the irresponsibility, you will charge $16,500 this year, to your credit card, on which you already have an outstanding balance of $142,710. Crazy, right? But that’s what we’re doing every year.

The national debt is a ticking time bomb. Many economists agree that there will be a point where the interest payments alone will make the debt unsustainable. And per the Congressional Budget Office, the consequences of unchecked government debt will be reduced income and living standards for all of us, and fewer government programs, and higher marginal tax rates.

This debt will cause inflation, and that will decrease the dollar’s purchasing power, making everything more expensive, from milk to medicine, not to mention the losses that will be sustained by pension and mutual funds, which are already substantial investors in federal debt.

This is, in part, why Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff said last year that, “The most significant threat to our national security is our debt…”

And that’s why, whether you are a Donkey or an Elephant, we must all find a way to solve this federal budget deficit, by electing statesmen concerned for the next generation, and not politicians concerned only for the next election.

Thomas Jefferson said that, “The greatest good we can do our country is to heal its party divisions and make them one people.” Abraham Lincoln explained that, “A house divided against itself cannot stand”. We must not remain a divided America; it encourages our enemies and weakens our courage. Now, who wants some apple pie?

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