Sacrifice Unshared

Early in his term, President Obama stressed shared sacrifice as a means to correct the various problems with which he said we were beset. He has shied away lately from that terminology. Why is that?

Perhaps it is because having called for it incorrectly, and then been stung with his own blatant hypocrisy, he now also incorrectly reckons it politically damaging to call for sacrifice at all. Or perhaps it’s just incompatible with his new lifestyle.
I agree with Dan Perrin that Mr. Obama’s slide in the polls is a self-inflicted wound, almost an own goal.

Americans understand sacrifice. If all virtue requires risking something of known value for something of greater, but uncertain value, then some sort of sacrifice is inherent in all acts of virtue.

In our nation’s past, we have rallied to the cry of shared sacrifice. In times of war, we have been willing to risk life and limb for the sake of a cause no more definite than putting down evil in some far off place. When presented with a clear goal — defeating an enemy, sending a man to the moon — we are inspired to greatness. When some are called on more than others, such as in Southeast Asia, we rebel.

And so it is with economic hardship. When asked to sacrifice to get the nation past economic hard times, we chafe. Such sacrifice is passive, and we are a people of action, immigrants all. To come to these shores we first had to leave somewhere else, and I think that’s burned into our culture. Or perhaps we merely distrust that the sacrifice will indeed be shared.

And we are already sacrificing, thank you very much. With the onset of $4 per gallon gasoline in 2008, Americans quickly changed their consumptive ways, altering their lifestyles. More and more of us are turning away from living by credit. We’re cutting back on spending now, and saving for later. We’re responding to the crisis in a rational way, which happens also to be the virtuous path that got our parents and grandparents through Great Depression I.

We suspect that government policies forcing cheap and easy credit led us into the economic mess, and the only way out of the mess is to shun the cheap and easy credit.

And 10% of us are unemployed; even more underemployed, our talents lying fallow. In that situation no one wants either to sacrifice or to benefit from the sacrifices of others.

Even more fundamentally, we don’t believe that such sacrifice would be required if we hadn’t wasted our resources on foolish consumerism. We believe in the economic engine our personal liberty creates, and we don’t think it ought to be controlled from Washington.

Mr. Obama conceives of sacrifice as shared sacrifice, a thing imposed on the People by the State. And it is not to all of the people that he calls, but merely the Haves. The Haves are asked to sacrifice their capital, the very thing most Americans believe will enable them to end our economic troubles. The Have Nots are not called to sacrifice, but to benefit from the bounty he will lay before them.

And at that, whether Have or Have Not, we chafe even more.

Cross-posted at The Minority Report