Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Foolish cry of the land: ‘We can’t af-ford …’


By PAT MURPHY
Express Staff Writer

The loudest voices crying for meat-cleaver federal budget cuts generally are the least qualified to under-stand what is and is not necessary spending.

The "we can't afford" mantra is a political slogan, not a financial or budget strategy. It is designed to ap-pease know-nothings wearing silly hats and parading with homemade protest placards, not to design a ma-trix for an economic giant such as the United States.

Politicians without a smidgeon of vision, but who twitch and turn with each demand from the marchers, are the most dangerous budget writers. Instead of working on a strategic blueprint on how to use federal dollars for scientific and industrial research, infra-structure repair and investment, human services needs, overall U.S. military mission, health care and the like, they would chop without knowing or asking the long-range risks.

Strategic thinking requires more perspective than political impulse.

Stacked on the shelves of credible academic re-search institutions and industry are blueprints for re-storing America's lost leads in energy, high-speed rail transportation, sensible health-care cost controls and advancing the classroom learning of America's lagging students.

President Obama has suggested a majestic idea: Pump major resources into the U.S. college system to make it the world's premier incubator for new re-search scientists, advanced teachers, mathematicians, physicists, and health care professionals. Make brain-power a U.S. "industry."

However, Congress often dismisses lofty thinking and long-range planning as "elitist"—just listen to the GOP's leading trendsetters, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann—and instead relies on the craven self-interests of campaign patrons to dictate where money is spent or denied.

If conservative Republicans say "we can't afford" a national rapid-rail system that would rival President Eisenhower's vision of an Interstate Highway System, how come we can afford the Afghan war's current an-nual tab of $119 billion and "progress" that's in the eyes of the generals, but not of others?

If even partial war costs were diverted to a crash energy development program (wind, solar, tidal), find-ing cures for catastrophically expensive diseases (can-cer, Parkinson's, etc.), repairing the crumbling U.S. infrastructure and bringing U.S. student achievement up to global levels, the country would be on the road back to real "exceptionalism" that is more mirage than reality.

Instead, the political class has chosen to mire down in piffling thought and flinty catchphrases that merely humiliate the nation. Grand visions of bold political statesmen built the "exceptionalism." Trifling politi-cians are just as surely tearing it down through indif-ference, savage partisan self-interest and the mindless strategy of sabotaging Barack Obama's programs, which also means sabotaging America.




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