As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, the first step to solving a problem is admitting that you have one. After all, how can you possibly hope to get well if you refuse to acknowledge that you are unwell in the first place?
This is a universally-accepted and fairly uncontroversial principle of all self-help programs, but it would appear that someone forgot to tell Congress.
In Washington, D.C., where our national legislature grapples with how to avert national default by raising the so-called “debt ceiling,” numerous congresspersons have adopted a rather intriguing attitude toward the whole thing by insisting that everything is just fine. That the widely-shared assumption that the U.S. Treasury will effectively go bankrupt on or shortly after October 17, plunging the entire world economy into unprecedented turmoil, is alarmist gobbledygook.
Representative Ted Yoho of Florida said as much earlier this month, suggesting there are ways of making up the lost revenue in question, that default is neither inevitable nor imminent, and that people like Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew should stop acting like the sky is falling and the world is about to end. This sentiment was soon seconded by Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, and many others have followed suit.
At this point, to be fair, this faction of deniers has not yet been proved wrong. As they rightly say, the U.S. government has never reached its self-imposed debt limit before, and so we cannot know for sure what will actually happen if and when it actually does.
But then I am reminded of that moment in Reservoir Dogs when Harvey Keitel is frantically tending to a critically-wounded Tim Roth, who lies bleeding all over the floor. Across the way, Steve Buscemi asks Keitel, “Is it bad?” Keitel responds, “As opposed to good?”
In short: The current debt concern might not be the direst problem the American republic has ever faced, but it is a problem nonetheless. A big one. One that cannot simply be wished away, as a sizeable chunk of the Republican Party now apparently wants to do.
It is bad enough when this sort of carefree (and careless) behavior is engaged in by private individuals in their private lives. But legislators represent, and are accountable to, all of us and to the country itself, and it is their duty to acknowledge a difficult task when it faces them. Particularly those who were instrumental in bringing the calamity about in the first place.
To understand the consequences of poo-pooing a large-scale conundrum instead of fixing it, one need look no further than the reaction to climate change over the last many years.
Just last week, we were presented with yet another confirmation that the phenomenon of ecological metamorphosis is both real, man-made and a direct and continuous threat to the well-being of the human race—to say nothing of every other race.
We have been given this unpleasant news not by loons who sit around subway stations and rant about the end of the world, but rather by the sorts of educated professionals who make it their business to know precisely what they are talking about and have the data to prove it.
By no means have all of their predictions proved correct. It is the nature of scientific inquiry to be wrong many times before being right. People of science can do no more than gather evidence and reach conclusions based on what they know about how the world works, and sometimes their own prejudices get in the way.
However, in the so-called “debate” about the nature of climate change, this is entirely beside the point. Key members of Congress, faced with a mountain of evidence of pending ecological catastrophe, have rejected not any particular details, but rather the entire premise, thereby ensuring the results of climate change would only grow worse, maybe to the point of no return.
The economy is not quite the same as the environment, but the principles underlying its regulation are.
In both cases, we have a problem. It is a problem of which we possess the power, the authority and the moral imperative to address and to resolve.
But before we can even reach the point of rectification, we must first have the nerve and the honesty to see the crisis for what it is—namely, a crisis.
We cannot wish away the debt any more than we can wish away hurricanes and droughts. Doing nothing is not an option. We might wish otherwise, but we would only be fooling ourselves by doing so. That is, until the moment we wake up and wonder where all the money went.