Friday, March 24, 2023
March 24, 2023

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Jayne: Sacrifice for common good

By , Columbian Opinion Page Editor

Sitting at a coffee shop, sipping on hot chocolate and pondering how to begin this column, I had a revelation.

I calculated that the hot chocolate costs $37.65 a gallon (after sales tax).

And that my favorite beer is $16.88 per gallon at the grocery store or $56 a gallon at a bar.

And that a pound of the family’s favorite coffee beans works out to about $5.56 per gallon of homemade java. Not that I ever touch the stuff; I prefer, um, er, healthier options. You know, such as hot chocolate and beer.

None of this makes gas prices of $4.39 or $4.59 or $4.79 a gallon any less painful. And none of this is particularly relevant if gas prices go higher. Gas is essential for many people and for our economy; hot chocolate is not, regardless of how hard I try to make it so.

But this does add a little context, and it does fuel a discussion about those gas prices and efforts by conservatives to use them as a political weapon. (If a Republican were in the White House, Democrats probably would try to make hay out of the issue.)

More important, this also leads to a discussion about Americans’ willingness to sacrifice for the common good. Because that speaks to our nation’s collective psyche.

Have we grown so soft as a society that we can no longer do hard things or work together? There is evidence to support that assertion. But there also is evidence that elected officials see political opportunism in exploiting it.

I know, this sounds convoluted thus far. So let’s talk specifics. Let’s start with the Iraq War.

In 2003, President George W. Bush launched an attack on Iraq, speciously claiming the rogue regime of Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Regardless of whether you believe the war was morally justified, there was another aspect that tore at our national fabric.

Bush launched wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while simultaneously pushing tax cuts through Congress. Rather than call for a national effort, he sent a message that war should be painless for the average American. That’s not leadership; leaders rally the public behind a common cause and a shared goal, asking for a bit of sacrifice from everybody.

Subsequent administrations have employed similar tactics. Most notably, Donald Trump pushed through huge tax cuts that benefited mostly the wealthy, driving up the national debt despite a robust economy. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, Trump’s economy was on pace for an annual federal deficit of nearly $1 trillion.

Note to elected leaders: Adults pay their bills when they can; they borrow money when times are tough. The national debt is now more than $30 trillion, and if you don’t think that matters, consider this: The federal government will spend $305 billion this year on the interest for that debt — nearly $1,000 per person.

All of this is related to a lack of sacrifice from the public — or an unwillingness by presidents and Congress to ask for such sacrifice. Our leaders believe we are so spoiled that we are unable to see the big picture of issues, like a toddler who wants a candy bar and wants it now.

I think we are better than that. A Quinnipiac poll last week found that 71 percent of respondents supported a ban on oil imports from Russia, even if it means higher gas prices. The poll found that 66 percent of Republicans and 82 percent of Democrats support the ban as a small price to pay in opposing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Of course, this news has been accompanied by countless stories and furious hand-wringing about what rising gas prices will mean for Democrats in the November election. We don’t know, nor should we care. If we want the United States to be the leader of the free world, we should accept that sometimes you do things because they are right, not because they are politically expedient.

And maybe we should wonder why we get worked up about a 20-cent hike in gas prices but willingly pay $37.65 a gallon for hot chocolate.