The 'not me' mentality

Commentator David Frum.

Tess Vigeland: One key theme in the president's speech was sacrifice. He said Americans -- and America -- must learn to live within our means again.

That got commentator David Frum thinking about what the focus of the conversation should be.


David Frum: Here's a helpful way to understand the budget crisis this past weekend -- in fact, to understand almost all our politics. At the bottom of so many of our current disputes is this fact: "$13 trillion in wealth was lost in the financial crisis. We are arguing over the question: Who should bear how much of that loss?"

And it seems almost Americans are united in one answer: "not me."

Should current Medicare recipients receive less? They filled the townhalls of the summer of 2009 to answer, "not me."

Should more affluent Americans pay more tax? They voted in November 2010 to say: "Not me."

It's not just a budget question.

One way to cope with the loss of wealth is through the value of the currency. A cheaper dollar means that Americans buy less of the planet's products and resources. The decline in the dollar acts like a tax on everybody who has dollars. The more dollars you have, the more tax you pay. Which is why people on Wall Street are so angry about the Federal Reserve's current cheap-dollar policy. They are saying: "not me."

If the dollar does not adjust, then nominal wages must decline instead. Threatened with cuts, state and local workers thronged the capitol in Wisconsin to chant: "not me."

But it's going to have to be somebody. Political leadership faces great challenges conveying this message. But even more than leadership, we have a challenge of followership.

Political leaders can help Americans to understand what has happened to our economy. It's up to Americans to hearken to full, rather than partisan, explanations.

Political leaders can offer hope that over time the country will recover. It's up to Americans to understand that recovery does not mean that all houses will recovery their 2007 valuations.

Political leaders can try to share the losses with as little pain and as much equity as possible under the circumstances. It's up to Americans to accept that "equitable" does not mean "we do it my way."


Vigeland: David Frum was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush. Today he's the editor of Frum Forum. Next week, Robert Reich. We'll take your views anytime. Send us your comments -- click on contact.

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