Dear Senators McCain and Obama:
It’s 4:15 a.m. as I write; I couldn’t sleep.
For now, Senator McCain still has my vote. But I am deeply distraught at an answer that each of you gave to what I thought was a critical question at Tuesday’s debate. It was from “Fiora,” a child of the Depression, who asked how you would call Americans to sacrifice given our current crisis.
I think there is no more sublime task than a leader’s asking his people to sacrifice, yet each of you missed the opportunity. Senator Obama, you came a little closer to stepping up, but Senator McCain, you were off by a mile.
Senator McCain, after acknowledging the sacrifice of our sons and daughters at war – an appropriate salute – you talked about cutting back or freezing government programs. You said that you had already saved me and my family (and a few others) $6.8 billion by cutting a deal for an Air Force Tanker. This is really tough to stomach, Senator. You see, I really wanted a Stealth Bomber for Christmas and even had a nice spot picked out in Central Park to land it. Now, I learn, I may have to “sacrifice.”
Then you went into EarmarksEarmarksEarmarks. Few people care about earmarks, Senator. Perhaps we should. But nobody is talking about the overhead projector in the Chicago Symphony for one million dollars while we stand around the water cooler. (Few of our organizations can afford the fresh water anymore, anyway.)
Sacrificing government programs is not individual sacrifice, which is what Fiora and I wanted to hear about. It’s not the hard, prophetic call we need. When the follow-up question came about what to do about Americans’ indebtedness, you spoke about Obama’s tax plan.
Senator Obama, you came a little closer to a satisfying answer, by acknowledging that the call after 9/11 to “shop” by President Bush should have been a call to serve. Later in your answer you spoke about doubling the Peace Corp. That’s good. (Still more about service than sacrifice, but it’ll preach.) But then you went into your standard talk on energy production and energy use, without specifics on any “sacrifice” this would entail for Americans.
The irony in how you each answered this question is that we are facing this economic crisis precisely because Americans have not sacrificed and have instead indulged ourselves. We are fat with debt, consumer-culture-driven need, and a feeling of entitlement, and we are encouraged to continue in this vein by a cowardly government leadership that coddles us into thinking that “wants” are in fact “rights.”
Here are some suggestions I have, that either of you could have said, but didn’t:
- To all my fellow Americans, give money to your local charity. Many of you give to a church, some to a synagogue or house of worship. Others to the Red Cross or Sierra Club. Many of you still have your jobs and have income. However, each job we see disappear in the financial sector is usually accompanied by the loss of three other jobs (restaurants, dry cleaners, car washers, etc.). This crisis will adversely affect those among us who are poorer. Therefore, start giving some of your money away to help others now affected or who will be as we see the massive ripple effect. I encourage you each to consider your responsibility to your neighbors. And to those of you with significant means, if you’re not giving away a substantial portion of what you make from the bounty of this land and the hard work of those also responsible for your success, then you are hoarding.
- Enlist in the military. There will always be a need to protect this country and also to aid other countries in this global neighborhood that might be bullied or help peoples who are oppressed by brutal dictators. The gift of your life to protect or save another’s cannot be trumped.
- Don’t shop so much. If you agree that President Bush’s call was unfortunate after 9/11 and we are faced with an equally critical economic problem now, then spend less and instead give to those in need, save for the future, and pay down your personal debt. Instead of buying Christmas or holiday presents this year, decide as families and friends to help a neighbor in need. For example, I know a man who decided to send someone else’s child to summer camp. That’s being a neighbor.
- Related to that, stop using your credit cards if you can’t pay off the entire balance when the bill comes. That’s one of the attitudes and habits that got us into this mess.
- Owning a home is a privilege, not a right. You have to be able to pay for it over time with a sound plan. If your income is uncertain (welfare and unemployment checks, etc.), then you must avoid foolish commitments, because there are callous lenders who don’t care whether you are turned out onto the street one, five, or ten years later. Be willing to defer this dream until your finances can handle it.
- Fiora, I know this is tough stuff. But you asked, and I think your question is the best of the night.
I am neither a policy wonk nor a politician nor a crusader. I’ve also been bankrupt before (1994), so my earnestness is born not only of disgust at these candidates’ removed answers but also from the ugliness and shame of going through financial hard times myself.
But now, I’m mad! MAD! I’m mad that these two guys didn’t step up and answer that most pointed of questions. It was a hard question, but it was also a softball question for one of them to really shine as our next leader, especially in light of this crisis. McCain is behind in the polls and had nothing to lose; he didn’t go for it. Obama is ahead and decided not to risk it.
In their answers, they themselves sacrificed nothing – neither reputation nor votes.
But I do know someone who sacrificed everything and then said, Follow me.
Strangely enough, his call to sacrifice, while difficult, is the most refreshing call of all. It allows us to get out of ourselves, to say “no” with an unchained mind to all the things and thoughts that cloud our thinking and dreaming and keep us from the true happiness that each of us seeks. That happiness is found in being connected to the One who gave up everything for our sakes, while we were all still pursuing our own gain, our own selfish ends. Connection to that One is all we need; everything we get on top of that is gravy.
Perhaps if one of you, Senators, stood up and called us to a purely selfless sacrifice like that, instead of repeating limp campaign platitudes and bromides, I’d be able to sleep better.
photo: phil h