A fat, dumb, and happy man plunks down $8 for a bacon double cheeseburger, large fries and a chocolate milkshake at Five Guys Burgers (best burgers east of In ‘N Out territory). The diligent grill crew quickly puts together his 1800 calorie snack but in their haste, four or five french fries fall from the bag. The crew deliberates at length over whether to put them back in the sack. They argue over fairness, company policy, and consumer rights when someone pipes up, “let’s make a deal and put all but one french fry back in the bag so it will be a healthy meal”. This is a metaphor for how Congress is dealing with the problems that make our debt the runaway train that it is and how the media reports on it.
Recently our elected political short order cooks delivered us with a ‘much healthier’ meal by not returning that single 30 calorie french fry back to the 1800 calorie bag. Mixed metaphor? – sure, but not hard to translate to the latest government shutdown fiasco, the manufactured drama on spending cuts, and the resulting narrative we were fed by the media that misses or ignores the big picture on a regular basis. The prevailing thought is that the 1800 calorie sack of fast food is really okay because our needs are met and that the health conscious workers did us a favor by not putting that extra french fry back in the bag.
We now find out that the facts and figures behind this most recent government shutdown crisis that our heroic politicians avoided via a dramatic, drawn out negotiated settlement turn out to be nothing more than smoke and mirrors. Regrettably for fat, dumb, and happy waiting at the counter, apparently the congressional french fry calorie calculator was not properly calibrated so it was really only a reduction of say, 15 calories. But we had to — open the sack — to see what was in it.
In the scheme of things the 1800 calorie sack is the budget proposal, the single withheld french fry represents the ‘draconian cuts’, and we the people assume our supporting role as the fat, dumb, and happy customer that will forever pay the bill. The media signs off with, “Bon appetite, suckers”!
The country endured more than a month of media initiated hand wringing over the imagined travesty of a potential government shutdown. Truth be told, a government shutdown might not have been so bad; we’ve managed to survive 17 shutdowns since 1977. And what about that $38.5 billion? – chump change, a gratuitous Band-Aid on a sucking chest wound in the scheme of things when one recaptures the bigger picture that our national debt (money we currently owe to somebody else – that’s right, I felt the need to explain what debt means to all those that fall under the category of fat, dumb, and happy, as well as virtually every politician) is in excess of $14 trillion.
12 zeroes: 14,000,000,000,000: 14 thousand billion: bigger than Gates and Buffett combined, more than you can imagine, come on big money!
The same folks that fought to find a paltry $38.5b of our tax dollars to sacrifice from the budget will shortly announce that they have given themselves permission to raise their credit limit even higher. Is there anyone in DC that actually attended Econ 101?
For a peek at the nightmare; click here. Take a deep breath first.
Have we Americans been dumbed down to the point of becoming so easily distracted by how something is marketed that we totally lose sight of the big picture? Have the attractive anchors on the 6 o’clock news hour and the eloquent political pundits that offer little outside of pointing fingers and emphasizing who on the left or right stands to gain from the latest malaise – made us blind to the fact that “we” are broke? Has dogmatic ideology, rabid partisanship, special interests, and a willful desire to spin the facts finally obfuscated the real possibility that “we” are broken?. Yes, yes, and yes.
Perhaps this is why there isn’t much urgency outside of those crazy tea partiers that see the US headed for a bona fide economic disaster. (If only the they could hire an image consultant to make their members appear as sane and likeable as their positions are credible)
While Democrats have been winning the tax and spend tug of war for a long time they’re not alone in playing politics with house money. Old guard Republicans are likewise part of the problem as many continue to champion the traditional politics of bringing home the bacon without a care in the world for who pays for it. Plans and people that propose fiscal austerity become marginalized. Deficit hawks, the debt ceiling, Rep. Paul Ryan (WI-R) and his 2012 budget are currently in their crosshairs.
In many ways what happened in the federal government shutdown-showdown and the way it was reported is a replay of what happened in Wisconsin where the governor and organized labor appeared to hold each other hostage. Those that became distracted by the twisted rhetoric and reporting saw the prevailing story line from Madison as a workers rights struggle against a renegade, union busting governor and not that of a dollars and cents issue of finding a way to stop the immediate bleeding and pay the state’s bills in the future.
The tough diagnosis is out there but you have to search for it. Regrettably, you won’t get it from the usual sources.
‘At least 43 states faced shortfalls in this year’s budget and/or next year’s budget, according to Washington research group Center on Budget & Policy Priorities, which recently completed a study on the shortfalls. States that have already raised taxes, dipped into reserves, and slashed programs to balance budgets now have to consider additional cuts because of lower-than-expected revenues. Thirty-seven states face such midyear fiscal 2009 gaps. And many states that have made projections for the 2010 fiscal year expect much more serious problems ahead……’ Bloomberg Business Week
If the politicians and the media treated us like adults, this type of reporting would provide the primary narrative and all the partisan bickering, MIA state legislators, and special interest aggrandizing would be nothing more than a side show. But for the time being, they know the fat, dumb, and happy customer will gratefully accept his or her healthier bag of fast food from Washington, minus one french fry.