Shortly after the midterm elections, I said on this program that the voters had spoken loudly and clearly: Cut government spending! But then I wondered what would happen when the American people realize that they are the ones who are going to have to sacrifice.
Will Americans respond like the citizens of Athens and Paris, taking to the streets, erecting barricades, rioting? Or will they buck up and realize we’ve got to cut back and get moving ourselves? Well, I see signs of both: ominous portents of civil unrest and signs that the true spirit of sacrifice may still be alive.
What we saw starting in Wisconsin over recent days, I’m sorry to say, is ominous and now spreading to other states. As I said yesterday on BreakPoint, in response to the state’s budget deficit Governor Walker proposed a bill that would require state workers to contribute 5.8% of their income towards their pensions and 12.6% towards health insurance. He also proposed to eliminate collective bargaining for benefits packages but kept it for salaries.
Seeing that the governor had the votes to pass the measure, all the Democratic senators fled Wisconsin to shut off the vote. Asked to make a sacrifice, thousands of public employees responded with outrage, mobbing the state capitol for nearly a week--a virtual strike.
And let’s be clear. What the governor proposed in Wisconsin and what’s now being proposed in Ohio and Indiana is in no way draconian. I for one would say to the governors, “Stand firm! We’ve all got to make sacrifices, even state employees.”
But there are some people who understand we must all sacrifice together. Bill Armstrong of Colorado is a man of uncommon character who graced the halls of Congress as a representative and a senator and then term-limited himself out of office. Armstrong is now the president of Colorado Christian University. Last Saturday he received news that the House Republicans had taken the axe to Pell Grants, that is, grants to help low-income students pay for college.
Armstrong had every right to be dismayed, because Colorado Christian students benefit greatly from Pell Grants. But he didn’t fire off angry phone calls to House members. Instead, he contacted his faculty, staff and board and gave them the tough news. The staff were anxious. This was going to hurt. But Armstrong told them in times like these, all of us have to make sacrifices. It’s the only way for the country to get out of this economic mess.
When I told Bill on the phone this week that that was courageous, he immediately dismissed the notion. He said, “Oh, no. I was just doing the right thing.” The contrast between Armstrong’s reaction and the public servants in the Midwestern states who are mobbing their capitol with their demands is stark.
All of this points to what Berkeley law professor Phillip Johnson calls the “post-modern impasse”: the fallacy of holding two contradictory positions at the same time. Sure, we don’t want the government to go broke, but we also want all of our entitlements. Folks, that can’t work. It is illogical. It is impossible. Thank God there are men like Bill Armstrong who get it.
As battles over the budget erupt in Washington and state capitals across the country, we’ll soon find out what we Americans are really made of. Pray the spirit of sacrifice for the common good prevails.