The Theater of the Absurd by Al Sikes


Park Geun-hye, South Korea’s disgraced ex-President, “now lives alone in a cell, eating $1.30 meals, washing her own tray and sleeping on a foldable mattress on the floor……..Ms. Park will have access to none of the stylists, personal chefs, plastic surgeons, skin-care specialists or physical therapists who used to regularly visit her at the Blue House.” New York Times

As I read about Ms. Park’s stark circumstance, my mind went from personal crimes to political corruption. And especially to America’s rapidly growing mortgage on her future: the national debt and associated annual budget deficit.

If politicians could be penalized for, let’s call them “fake debt promises”, by confinement and $1.30 a day meals, would America’s finances be healthier?

It will immediately be said by discerning readers that “fake promises” are to be sorted out at the ballot box. Ventilate no more, I agree with you. So then how do voters, compromised by self-interest, big numbers and short attention spans discipline candidates? Is it possible in the selfie era to live beyond the moment?

Jo Craven McGinty, a Pulitzer Prize winning data reporter/analyst noted in a Wall Street Journal article: “Big numbers befuddle us, and our lack of comprehension compromises our ability to judge information about government budgets, scientific findings, the economy and other topics that convey meaning with abstract figures, like millions, billions and trillions.” The shadow that increasingly envelopes America is in the trillions.

Every single candidate who runs for office lip syncs “we need to balance the budget.” But when the curtain goes up, the characters of the moment act out the theater of the absurd—national interest is whispered, self-interest is screamed.

The latest projection by the Congressional Budget Office reports that our national debt is on track to double in the next thirty years. It is criminal to be on trajectories that will double $20 trillion—gifted mathematicians have a hard time with this calculation.

So let me end with a semblance of what might be done. But first, what I do know is that current party leaders are incapable of bi-partisan leadership. Also there is nothing in the Trump playbook that will unify the Republican coalition on a coherent debt plan.

If you run as a Republican, you must have a whole list of taxes you intend to eliminate or reduce. So much for the revenue side.

If you are a Democrat, you must pay homage to the public employee unions, among others, who want to spend more not less. So much for the cost side.

Current generations are enriching themselves to the detriment of their children and grandchildren. It is not likely, but certain, that if this does not stop, servicing the debt will consume discretionary spending while undermining the dollar as the world’s currency. So much for our progeny.

There is now a sequel to Bowles-Simpson, the last bipartisan attempt at a debt solution. It is called the Moment of Truth Project and is largely peopled by retired politicians. Retired politicians will attempt to seize the day but they won’t win it.

Irresistible energy is all that will overcome. And, it will need to be organized by generational self-interest animated by a unifying principle that regards compromise as an essential good in a pluralistic society. I am reminded of President Kennedy’s call: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” Is this just an antique thought?

Park Geun-hye went from the Blue House to jail; the absurdist conspiracy to commit fraud on the American public must not go unpunished.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 



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