Guest View: Joe Biden’s redefinition of patriotism |

Guest View: Joe Biden’s redefinition of patriotism

Fred Kalhammer

Not long ago, Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware was roundly criticized for suggesting that paying taxes was a “patriotic” duty. I’ve never thought about it that way myself, I must admit. But when I make out a substantial check to the IRS each quarter, I certainly don’t grit my teeth and get all red in the face the way some people do when the subject of taxation arises.

Perhaps I don’t begrudge rendering to Uncle Sam that which is his avuncular due because, for much of my adult life, I’ve lived in countries where avoiding taxes has been a national sport. In those same countries public services, educational facilities, roads and bridges, water quality, transportation, health care, social security, etc., remain woefully underdeveloped, while fire and police protection also leave much to be desired. In other words, I have learned to appreciate the taxpayer-funded employees, services, programs and improvements that many of my fellow citizens seem not only to take for granted, but even frequently criticize, often unfairly.

In all the hubbub created recently by the bursting of the housing bubble, the subsequent credit crunch and financial sector meltdown, not to mention the heated rhetoric of the culminating election campaign, precious little has been made of the parlous state of our nation’s financial condition. Our national debt has risen from $5.7 trillion when Bill Clinton left office to almost double that amount today. And projections by the Congressional Budget Office predict that the last year of the Bush administration will result in a deficit of another half-trillion dollars, while next fiscal year’s results may be even worse.

An organization that I have not heard mentioned even in passing during the recent financial crisis has been Congress’ investigative arm, the Government Accountability Office (formerly General Accounting Office), better known simply as the GAO. The former head of that entity, Comptroller General of the United States David Walker, before he resigned in frustration, traveled the country far and wide making speech after speech appealing for a return to fiscal responsibility. His main concern was the nation’s unfunded liabilities for the entitlement programs (Social Security, Medicare, etc.) Americans have come to expect when they retire. Those unfunded liabilities are estimated at some $53 trillion ($53,000,000,000,000)!

Where will all this money come from if the citizenry wishes to continue to enjoy the same standard of living that it has become accustomed to? Judging by the tax cuts and other goodies being promised by both main presidential candidates, it won’t come from us taxpayers any time soon. (In fairness, Sen. Obama does propose increasing certain taxes on the highest income earners, but these measures will only lessen the deficit, not result in a balanced budget, or a much-needed revenue surplus.) The result, of course, will be that the government will continue to borrow from wherever it can at home and abroad until such time as the expense side of the federal budget will be all but consumed by debt service payments. In turn, this will curtail the provision of government services and benefits to such an extent that living conditions in these United States will begin to resemble those “enjoyed” by our neighbors to the south.

Never happen, you say? Who could have foreseen even six months ago that some of the nation’s oldest and proudest financial institutions would have either disappeared or effectively been taken over by Uncle Sam, who, as has been amply demonstrated above, can ill afford to do so. If we as a nation blithely continue to call the tune while ducking out when it comes time to pay the piper, then, sadly, it will be our kids and grandkids who’ll be stuck with the check.

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Perhaps they’ll think that Joe Biden’s definition of patriotism wasn’t so far-fetched.

— Fred Kalhammer is a retired Foreign Service Officer and Stateline resident.