Precht: Tough responses to hard times

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

Item #1. The other day I walked over to the public library near our house in Bethesda, Md. to look at some magazines in the periodical room. Half the slots for major publications were empty. All of the dozen computers were in use; people were waiting for an opening. Budget cuts, the librarian said. Probably Bridgton too has lost some of its customary public amenities owing to the financial crisis.

Item #2. “U.S. to Pay $3.8 Billion for Next Lot of F-35 Jets,” The New York Times headlined the other day. That money would buy maybe three-dozen of the super-sophisticated planes.  The final charge might be almost $400 billion if the full lot of over 2,400 of the radar-evading aircraft were ordered. The most expensive weapons system ever built, the paper said. For fighting which of our current or possible future enemies? What kind of war would require such a system, do you suppose?

Item #3. The president and Republicans in Congress are at loggerheads in seeking a deal to reduce the national debt ($16 trillion of which your share, Dear Reader, is over $50,000). Obama wants to limit spending cuts and instead focus on cutting taxes for high-income earners. His opponents demand larger cuts in spending and no — or only a limited — increase in taxes for their wealthy friends. (The top tax rate under Eisenhower was 91%, under Nixon 70%.) Neither side talks about taking a healthy swipe at the bloated defense budget.

Item #4. The ability to look beyond the next election cycle and the application of common sense to difficult problems seem no longer part of the mental equipment of our elected leaders. “How can we govern,” they ask, “if we’re defeated for office? We must please our voters.” Did I write “leaders?” Shouldn’t it be followers?

This last item presents the greatest insult to the intelligence of us voters. Our politicians presume that we don’t know about the problems facing our nation and the absolute need to find solutions. They think we aren’t aware that:

• The nation is going broke, burdened by an unsustainable debt;

• Taxes are skewed to favor those whose money buys privileges;

• The retirement of the baby boomer generation will place a new and far heavier demand on the Medicare and Social Security systems;

• Climate change is coming on apace, bringing more of the severe weather conditions we have experienced and requiring more of our national resources to repair the damages;

• We can no longer get our way in the world by bullying people far inferior to us in armaments or by applying other forms of costly arm twisting;

• Our creaking political system is badly in need of an overall — starting with the rules controlling congressional procedures and continuing with some basic changes in our hallowed constitution.

What is to be done?

I think Bridgton started in the right direction with its votes on Election Day. Subsequent moves might follow a few simple, but essential rules:

• Don’t let politics get lost in the secondary, distracting social issues like abortion, gay rights or gun control, none of which can have the slightest influence over our national destiny.

• Speak out. Let those in Washington and Augusta know that you are not so dumb as they think we are. Let them know that you are following their special interest-influenced actions.

• Begin talking about the basic changes that are needed for laws and practices and make plain that you are willing to take on your share of sacrifice.

We may not have men and women governing us with the stature of the Founding Fathers, but we surely have people equal to the founding constituents of those distant days.

Henry Precht is a summer Bridgtonian.

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