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Gary Horton: Post Recession Americans

Posted: January 23, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: January 23, 2013 2:00 a.m.

A funny thing happened during the tumult of the past few years. Economic heat and pressure have morphed us into "Post Recession Americans."

Hard recessions are like crucibles; they apply intense heat and change the very nature of the things placed inside them — until clay becomes ceramic and iron becomes steel.

In contrast, sometimes crucibles simply burn things up, and that too, happened in our recession. But strengthen us or torch us, the Great Recession has altered almost all of us, and we’re "Post Recession Americans" now, like it or not.

The crux of the change? More pragmatism. A willingness to accept less, instead of nothing. More rationality to accommodate rather than to fight. Why even the Republican Congress is talking about passing the Debt Ceiling without pushing us all back to the brink again.

We’ve jointly struggled so long and suffered so much we just want to see things work reasonably well again regardless of the brand or camp that came up with the idea.

Yes, it’s still popular to moan of polarization in Congress — but much of polarization is branding and an advertising angle, and even those polarized guys are fatigued and would like to just give it a rest for a while.

As evidence of the morph, I supply three strong examples.

1. A Democrat once no less radical than Jerry Brown has emerged as a national model of fiscal prudence, having by sheer force of will resolved California’s fiscal crisis, putting us on a stable path. Macho Republican Governator Schwarzenegger couldn’t do it, but Zen Master Governor Moonbeam did.

2. Our own Republican Signal columnist Steve Lunetta recently wrote twice supporting common sense gun control, and once supporting zoning and planning laws. Until recently, no Republican could utter "common sense" and "gun control" in the same sentence, let alone in the same year, and zoning was akin to socialism.

3. Just last week I personally wrote that Brown should remember that tax receipts belong to the people who earned them, and before we release new torrents of feel good spending, perhaps we could consider modifying taxation levels towards keeping with more moderate states.

Such are the crazy wonders we’ll witness as Post Recession Americans. Maybe not quite "lambs lying with lions" material, but maybe "old adversaries getting along better after profound shared suffering."

In this spirit, let’s check the President on a portion of his inauguration speech, recognizing that Obama adversary Paul Ryan was at least partly right in his rhetoric. Obama commented,

"The commitments we make to each other — through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security — these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great…"

Obama took aim at Paul Ryan’s oft-repeated assertion that one third of Americans are unproductive "takers." While Ryan is surely way off the mark on his absolute numbers, we would be wastefully naïve to ignore the vast fraud and waste in our support programs.

Of course, those who’ve paid into Social Security deserve their payouts. So do those suffering catastrophic accidents, real medical emergencies or real poverty. Yet conversely, do we want to ignore those obvious areas where we can both save waste and encourage productivity at the same time?

During the recession, millions filed for, and received permanent Social Security at rates nearly triple prior periods. Yes, it was hard to find a job, but "out of work" does not mean, "permanently disabled." Our programs have, in and of themselves, effectively disabled perhaps a million workers. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands continue to file and receive fraudulent workmans compensation rewards, penalizing businesses trying to do well by their productive employees and customers. And consider our rent assist programs set up just so, that once on the program recipients practically need to win the lottery to make sense to get off.

The coin can also be flipped conversely. How many defense contractors continue on the federal gravy train, spoon fed by the Armed Services Committee for weaponry the military doesn’t want and for wars we can’t afford? These companies are now addicted, and going cold turkey means tens of thousands of layoffs and angry constituent addicts.

Yes, President Obama, beware that America does suffer from excessive "takers." And this "taker contingent" consists of millions of Democrats and Republicans and government-reliant businesses of all shapes and sizes and colors.

Our social programs and government services are largely essential and beneficial. But surely, for every dollar spent there’s at least a dime waiting to be saved.

Maybe, President Obama, you could allow Congress a consolation prize for their recent drubbing: They say they’re eager to save our money. So allow them — no, demand them — to find the real wasted dimes in our dollars and give them that degree of glory in your much spoken "perfection of our union."

Because — as newly minted Post Recession Americans, we just want to see things work — better and more efficiently, regardless of brand or party or camp.

Gary Horton is a Valencia resident. "Full Speed to Port!" runs Wednesdays in The Signal.


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