Recent Posts

Observations: A surplus of nattering nabobs

Published on: July 27, 2011

From my perspective, our nation’s capitol is becoming less a hallowed ground of honorable representatives with this great nation’s history on their shoulders and more a city filled with nattering nabobs of negativism. Mitch Traphagen Photo

From my perspective, our nation’s capitol is becoming less a hallowed ground of honorable representatives with this great nation’s history on their shoulders and more a city filled with nattering nabobs of negativism. Mitch Traphagen Photo


On September 11, 1970, Vice President Spiro Agnew uttered a famous phrase written for him by William Safire:  “Nattering nabobs of negativism.”  At the time, he was referring to the Democratic Party. Whether he was accurate or not depends on your perspective, but that view has widened considerably over the past four decades. Nattering Nabobs of Negativism has gone bipartisan.

I was honored and proud to be an employee of the U.S. House of Representatives from 2009 until earlier this year. I couldn’t see how anyone could help but to be proud when walking down the hallowed hallways of the House office buildings, seeing the Capitol and the memorials just across the street. Given the distinguished history of this great nation, how could anyone not give their best for their constituents and their country in such a setting?  At the time, I felt that surely everyone was struck by the presence of the same ghosts of our forefathers who I felt visited me. While the people in Washington didn’t always see eye to eye on issues, I was certain that no matter what, their eyes were always focused on the objectives that they felt were in the best interests of the nation.

Now, as I watch the debacle over the debt ceiling unfold, I am no longer certain about that. It seems that people on both sides of the aisle are putting their respective parties before the United States of America. I wonder if the protocol that I so respected while working for the House somehow contributes to what appears to be a tragic comedy of Nero fiddling while Rome burns. While our elected officials revel in their titles of “President,”  “Speaker,” “Senator,” “Congressman” and even “Commissioner,” have they forgotten about the fact that they were elected as common men and women to represent all of us?

Credit rating agencies have already threatened to downgrade the stellar AAA rating of American debt if the debt ceiling is not raised. Should that happen, the cost of the enormous debt we as taxpayers carry will increase — and that would happen for no good reason other than party politics, where one side wants to win all over the other side.

Keep in mind that we are NOT talking about new government expenditures here; we are talking about keeping our obligations to pay for things that are already approved by both parties and already charged to the nation’s gigantic credit card. Both parties have already said “yes” to the money that has been spent, but now that the bill has arrived, they are fighting over actually paying it. So much for Americans keeping their word.

Confidence is everything in America. Consumer and government spending on health care accounts for nearly 70 percent of the nation’s economy. If consumer confidence wanes, so does spending and the economy, as painfully illustrated by the Great Recession, the effects of which linger on in places like Florida even today. Watching this latest political sideshow play out has certainly done nothing for consumer confidence.

And then, of course, there is world confidence in the United States. Yes, it does matter to all of us. 

I know there are plenty of people out there who will say that there really will be no default, that if enough entitlement programs are gutted the U.S. government revenue is enough to meet the government’s obligations. But that’s not true when you look at the big picture. The big picture includes some really big printing presses from which the dollars in your wallet emerge. The U.S. can run those presses night and day, printing more and more money because the world believes the United States is a stable and honest leader. As long as the world believes in America, they’ll keep taking our money and investing in our nation. As long as that belief continues, the United States will never go broke. We can’t — we produce money. The fact that we can run those presses 24/7 means that, as a society, we get to live indoors; drive cars on paved roads; have nice television sets, iPods and computers; and have world-class law enforcement officers and first responders.

However, once that belief stops, or is even eroded a little bit, the game changes and those presses would have to be shut down — the only thing they’d be printing is Monopoly money. The politicizing of and the theatrics involved in the debate over the debt ceiling makes the world lose faith in us — and deservedly so because it is becoming clear that we’ve already lost faith in ourselves.

The deadline for the debt ceiling decision, set by the Treasury Secretary, is approaching like a slow-motion train wreck. Perhaps, hopefully, by the time you read this a compromise will have been reached with a clear and definitive resolution on the horizon. But even so, there has been damage done. Certainly, the world is seeing America as less a shining and stable beacon on the hill and more an angry nation of bewildering people who bicker and point fingers while their economy rushes towards the edge of a cliff.

It is more than metaphoric. Just last weekend 4,000 FAA employees were furloughed because Congress could not get its act together to continue funding for the agency, something that up until now Congress has managed to do without dispute for more than a decade. And that Congress could not get their act together doesn’t just affect the FAA employees, it also hits government revenue as airline taxes won’t be collected until a reauthorization bill passes. While that may appear to be good news if you are a passenger, it isn’t — most airlines quickly raised their fares to pick up some easy profit from the unexpected tax holiday. The bottom line is that the already in-debt government is the big loser, which, of course, translates to the American taxpayers.

It doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat or a Republican. It doesn’t matter if you are for or against entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security. That’s not what this argument is about. America should be a nation that keeps its word. We should be good for our debts. The debate over the debt ceiling is a little like kidnapping your neighbor’s wife and holding her at gunpoint because his dog barks and keeps you up at night. Yes, that might be an effective resolution to the problem, but the cost of handling it that way would be extremely high.

One of the primary responsibilities of Congress is to manage the nation’s money. Everyone with a lick of common sense knows that this country can’t continue to pile up debt as it has, nor can it continue to print money full time. But that’s what the budget is for and Congress needs to address that reality in the proper place. It’s time they stop playing politics and do their job as best they can for the American people, without the games, drama, posturing and theatrics. From my perspective, our nation’s capitol is becoming less a hallowed ground of honorable representatives shouldering the weight of great history and more a place filled with nattering nabobs of negativism. That needs to stop now.

Yes, our nation is facing monumental problems but I still believe in America and in the unlimited potential of my fellow Americans.  It’s time our elected officials show some faith as well.