When investment maven Warren Buffett wrote his August NY Times OP Ed piece entitled “stop coddling the super-rich”, he described that even with his own $6.9 million personal tax bill – this represented only 17% of his taxable income. This, it turns out, was significantly lower than all 20 of the lesser paid employees in his Berkshire Hathaway office. His co-workers were paying between 36-41% of their taxable income to the Feds. Warren was definitely weighing in on the “shared sacrifice” side of our nations’ debt ceiling debate.
As some right wing columnist blogged recently, even increasing taxes on our wealthiest citizens wouldn’t by itself raise enough revenue to solve this nation’s debt problem. However, you would imagine that the Buffett piece would at least spawn more high-minded debate. One would also think that the views of a highly respected capitalist would make even right wing politicians take notice. However, without citing specific political leaders, I was struck by the reaction of many conservative politicians, who had no trouble abandoning one of capitalism’s greatest heroes seemingly because his views were not aligned. It feels like the heels of our political leaders are pretty firmly dug in.
Another OP Ed piece – this one written by liberal Emory University columnist Drew Westen – seems to lambaste those on the liberal side of this debate – including the White House for a lack of FDR-like strength and boldness in facing the largest economic struggle we have seen since the Great Depression. See . Westen remembered listening to the President’s January 20, 2009 inaugural address with a sense of emptiness for the lack of a leadership story he felt the country was longing to hear about how our country should face its economic challenges.
Says Westen: “The stories our leaders tell us matter, probably almost as much as the stories our parents tell us as children, because they orient us to what is, what could be, and what should be; to the worldviews they hold and to the values they hold sacred. Our brains evolved to “expect” stories with a particular structure, with protagonists and villains, a hill to be climbed or a battle to be fought.” He felt that the story did not come on that cold day in January, and has not been articulated since – perhaps [as Westen theorizes] out of an aversion to conflict.
But so, it is, with Congress and the Executive Branch caught up in a debate that they have thus far been unable to resolve, amidst the worsening economic news and stunning performance of the stock market. Neither side seems to be able to advance a way forward that can work.
In Ken Burns’ dramatic Civil War documentary, historian Shelby Foote stated (when asked why he thought the war occurred) that “we seemed to forget how to compromise . . . something we are supposed to be good at . . . a concept that our nation was founded on.” What do they say . . . those who forget about history are doomed to repeat it?
Whatever our personal views, It feels like stronger leadership is needed on both sides of this contentious but vital debate. We need people to step forward with strength of purpose to put the needs of our nation above the need to claim victory. Let us hope the autumn will bring cooler heads, clearer minds, and a more appealing story