I 'm sure we've all read and watched with interest the events transpiring in the Egypt and other Middle East countries as they take to the streets to demand greater freedoms and hopefully a more promising financial future. While scary, the Pierce family had quite an experience when their planned vacation trip had trapped them in Cairo for several days while events unfolded all around them. This article appeared last week in most of our publications, and if you didn't get a chance to read it, please go online, take look and put yourself in their shoes. It's one of those unique life experiences they will forever carry with them.
I thought to myself several weeks ago, given the severity of the financial woes in the United States, that we might begin to see such large protests erupt here as our government begins to tackle the decisions that must be made to correct our looming debt. Perhaps like you, I was taken aback last week when we saw thousands of protesters storming the capital in Madison, Wisc. over Republican Gov. Walker's proposed budget cuts. Now I wonder how soon until we start seeing similar events evolve here in New York and the North Country.
In Wisconsin, the battle lines are clearly drawn between the two political parties; Republican and Democratic. The Tea Party has thrown its support behind Republicans, and I just read that a group of licensed Wisconsin doctors visited the Capitol saying they would write a physician's note for anyone who asked. Do two wrongs make a right? In my opinion, it's wrong for teachers to put their self interest before their students, and I believe it is unethical for physicians to issue fake sick notices. To what level will things escalate when both sides dig in their heels? Is winning at all cost the lesson we really want to teach our young?
I fear this is only the beginning of what is shaping up as a season of protests and marches as more groups weigh in on the cuts that must be made across the land. Here in New York, Democratic Gov. Cuomo, has called for shared cuts in his state budget, but he has also made it clear that special interests groups will be applying significant pressure to the process. Who among us isn't a "special interest"? How can spending cuts be made if we only cut those items that don't affect one's self interest? If you don't think you are part of a special interest, you are only kidding yourself. Each of us has more than one, even if we aren't active, and those groups speak for some position or point of view akin to you, your lifestyle or your family. We've become a nation of special interests.
Over this past week I've received several emails from groups and organizations I am associated with, all asking for my support of their (our) position. In each case, I've been very careful in crafting letters urging common sense, restrain and greater understanding. So many of the dollars spent by our governments have transitioned from support to entitlements and it's that feeling of entitlement that now has us trapped in this "win at all cost" environment. At what point does tolerance and understanding enter the equation? Is the elimination of 100 percent of a program's funding retribution or a wise choice of spending, and if the program was that much of a waste of funds, how has funding lasted this long?
When any of us spends a dollar out of our pocket, we ask ourselves two key questions: "Can I afford this?" and "Do I think I will get value in return for the dollar spent?" When it's not your money, it becomes much easier to not treat it like it's your last dollar. We simply will not solve these difficult financial issues unless we all agree that we are at a critical a crossroads, that we must all make scarifies and that every dollar must be treated like it's our last.
For too many years, we've transferred the personal responsibility for the dollars spent by government to elected officials who have been as much the problem as those of us who've gone to them with our hands held out asking for more. I'll never forget a school superintendent saying to me years ago at a meeting over the school budget, with hundreds in attendance, that this was "free money" he was looking to spend. Money has never been free, but with that type of thinking, is it any wonder why we are all demanding the fair share we are entitled to receive?
The solution to solve these difficult financial decisions should not rest with those who scream the loudest, threaten retribution or create work stoppages. Our democracy through our elected officials must rise to the occasion and give serious and honest debate to the merits of these programs and show the rest of the world how we can govern with openness and fairness to all. As citizens of this democracy, we have always known that the freedoms we enjoy come with a heavy price. Shared sacrifice, compassion for those less fortunate, and a return to the values that made this a nation of strength, understanding and opportunity must prevail in the days ahead. If we fail to reach shared compromise, I fear the days ahead are filled with disruptive discourse when we should be focused on constructive growth. Tough choices can't always be at the other side's expense.
Dan Alexander is publisher and owner of Denton Publications. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.