Bob Franken

King Features Column

(As usual, the arrangement with syndicators means these columns appear here a week after their newspaper release)


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It’s hard to argue with President Barack Obama when he says, “America, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home.” Let’s face it: That “exceptionalism” to which so many demagogues cling is in dire need of repair “here at home.” To put it bluntly, we are tapped out.

The debate about whether the U.S. has a moral obligation to protect the severely oppressed around the world is beside the point. Plainly and simply, the United States of America is stretched too thin — its armed forces as well as its financial resources.

Two wars and one in Libya that the White House insists isn’t really a “hostility” have sapped the country’s energy. At home, no matter how many experts insist that the recession is over, desperate millions are still mired in its rubble.

Decades of fiscal irresponsibility have left an economy that is close to being crushed. It’s not just a case of overspending; it’s also the matter of catering to the rich and powerful who continuously have been allowed not to pay their fair share.

Worst of all, the political system that must somehow come to the rescue is itself paralyzed; the voices of reason and cooperation that are essential have been strangled silent. Instead, we get spectacle, like Republicans flouncing out of negotiating sessions because Democrats would even dare to talk about raising taxes on the wealthy. Democrats are no better, many refusing to budge when it comes to shaving back expenditures no matter how extravagant or unnecessary.

As laudable as each social program sounds, almost every one has flab that can be trimmed. That is certainly the case when it comes to defense spending. And yes, the entitlements, meaning Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, certainly could be reworked so that they could continue to protect the aged and needy but do so in less wasteful ways. The alternative is a looming bankruptcy.

How many grave-condition reports do we need? The latest from the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office is typical: If spending continues as it is, CBO projects that the national debt will exceed the entire economy of the United States, the ENTIRE economy, in just 10 years and be double the size in 25 years.

Meanwhile, each and every one of the three major credit-rating services says it is ready to downgrade the nation’s sacred top credit rating, which ultimately would send the securities behind further borrowing to eventual junk-bond status. That threatens to put the economy in a downward spiral that would accelerate as higher interest costs are added to the load.

The deadline for that is Aug. 2. After that, the U.S. begins to default on the massive debt it already holds. And yet, many of those who must decide on an agreement that will allow an increase in the borrowing ceiling continue to belittle the impact a default would have. The assurances we hear from our leaders that there’s no way this could happen start to ring hollow.

Is it any wonder that one poll after another shows a majority believe the country is headed in the wrong direction? The expectation of upward mobility has been taken over by the fear of falling down. As it is, before optimism can be restored, some major rebuilding is necessary to avoid national collapse. In justifying the Afghanistan moves, Obama stated they are being made from a “position of strength.” That claim about the nation’s domestic situation is becoming less and less certain.

If the politicians miscalculate and overplay their hands, come Aug. 3, there will be no need for arguments over how America projects her power around the world. If the fiscal problems, both immediate and long term, are not solved, America will have no power to project.

© 2011 Bob Franken

Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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