We might just be the whiniest nation on earth. We're rich, powerful ... and spoiled. Sacrifice? Is that like, being delayed in traffic because some rude person had an accident, or what?
U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who avoided military service because of a shoulder injury, evidently believes sacrifice is something the rest of us can experience vicariously through men and women now fighting the uncalled-for, unraveling war on Iraq. He made that clear on May 18, responding to remarks by U.S. Sen. John McCain, who suffered years of imprisonment and torture as a P.O.W. in Vietnam.
"Throughout our history, wartime has been a time of sacrifice," McCain said. "What have we sacrificed? As mind-boggling as expanding Medicare has been, nothing tops my confusion for cutting taxes during wartime. I don't remember ever in the history of warfare when we have cut taxes."
Exactly. President Bush and his Teflon cronies have screeched that "we're at war" since Sept. 11, 2001, implying that the "war on terror" could go on for ... well, forever. But have you been asked to make any sacrifice in this time of perpetual war against an extra-national idea? Me neither.
For Hastert, others' sacrifices suffice: "John McCain ought to see our young men and women at Walter Reed (Army hospital) and Bethesda (Army hospital)," he huffed. "There's the sacrifice in this country."
Hey, neat! Other people die for the hubris, arrogance and idiocy of my government, and I get the props for their sacrifice. Absolved! Thanks, Dennis!
But McCain wasn't buying it: "All we are called upon to do is to not spend our nation into bankruptcy while our soldiers risk their lives." I think the senator would agree that we're also called upon for at least a little personal sacrifice.
Yet as soldiers and Iraqis die needlessly in Bush's foolish war, here at home we're whining about gas prices. Oh, we love our free-market capitalism until supply and demand smack us in the forehead. Then we turn into whimpering brats and conspiracy-spouting xenophobes (th' durned Ay-rabs, y'know...).
Average prices at the pump now have sloshed over the $2 per gallon level, provoking bipartisan tantrums and pandering across the nation. Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry proclaimed that Bush should tap into the nation's emergency petroleum reserve, a truly lousy idea. Meanwhile, Bush reportedly has a deal with his Saudi pals to cut prices as a crude October surprise, and Karl Rove has his boy ripping Kerry for his long-ago, sensible support for a 50-cent-a-gallon gas tax.
Are you "outraged" about gas prices? Well, don't be: The current price of gas remains well below the inflation-adjusted prices from the late 1970s to mid-1980s, which peaked at close to $3 a gallon (according to J.D. Power and Associates). It's supply and demand, not a personal attack.
Thankfully, an increasing number of commentators, including conservatives Charles Krauthammer and Andrew Sullivan, are calling for some sacrifice: It's time to jack up the federal gas tax by 50 cents or a buck a gallon.
Raising the gas tax would discourage wanton consumption, encourage better fuel-efficiency standards (which have plummeted in the age of the SUV) and reduce our dependence on the foreign oil that causes us so many geopolitical headaches. Such a tax, said Bush's chief economic adviser Greg Mankiw in the late '90s, would result in "more rapid economic growth, less traffic congestion, safer roads, and reduced risk of global warming all without jeopardizing long-term fiscal solvency." And, of course, if we really do need to send troops somewhere, our cute li'l sacrifice would help pay for it.
But it won't happen. Neither Kerry nor Bush has the courage or vision to take such a step. And frankly, if they did, spoiled voters would punish them for their good sense.
So now what? Drive less, maybe? Carpool? Take the bus, ride a bike, combine trips? Ditch that SUV we don't need? Nah. Whining's so much easier.
Copyright 2004, The Daily Camera.