My father was a product of the Great Depression and World War II. Like so many others of his generation, he, like his parents before him, knew how to "do without."
When he told us, "we can't afford it," that did not mean our family was deprived of material things we deserved. Instead it marked a boundary not to be crossed because on the other side, waiting to greet us, were the twin demons of bad credit and financial ruin. "Always pay the bank," was my father's sound advice. And so I have, which is why my credit score remains high.
Not so with the United States government. Under both parties, but especially free-spending Democrats, the greatest nation on Earth has seen its credit rating downgraded from AAA to AA-plus, putting us on the same level as Belgium and New Zealand.
This would be shameful if America had any shame left. In our race to give everyone what they want, politicians have failed miserably to give us what we need.
Saying "no" is not in their vocabulary. Living within our means has been replaced with "entitlement," "spreading the wealth around" and "fairness." Instead of promoting people who have made right decisions that have allowed them to be self-sustaining and contribute to the nation's health and strength, President Obama and congressional Democrats ridicule and seek to penalize the successful (while happily receiving their campaign contributions).
Success and wealth are frowned upon, while failure and poverty are a kind of preferred righteousness worthy of being subsidized by the "evil" productive.
This attitude is the polar opposite of the optimistic, risk-taking and reward culture that built and sustained America through previous economic downturns. And it has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Who will lead us out of this mess and make the necessary spending cuts?
Jimmy Carter, to whom President Obama is increasingly compared, attempted to sell "malaise" and retreat to a nation with optimism and progress in its DNA. It is no shame to be ignorant of how to solve a problem as long as you continue to press on toward a solution.
However, it is a great shame to know how a problem can be solved and not solve it because you prefer the issue to remain an issue.
That is where we are with the recent debt-ceiling agreement. It means little to Standard & Poor's analysts. In their decision to downgrade America's pristine credit rating, S&P said it does not substantially reduce debt and they are not persuaded America is serious about doing so in the near future. The Obama administration's response has been to attack S&P's methodology. S&P has threatened to downgrade us again.
What don't liberals understand about bloated government? Instead of a commission made up of politicians who created the problem, outside auditors with no political connections should be brought in and empowered to eliminate every government agency that does not produce services essential to strengthening the nation.
They can start with the Departments of Education, which does not educate, Energy, which produces none, Housing and Urban Development, which builds no houses, and Veterans Affairs, whose responsibilities can be handled by the Defense Department. Some of these -- and many others -- were created as political gifts to various constituencies. We can't afford them. They can be eliminated. Loads of money can be saved.
In April, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said on the Fox Business Network there was "no risk" America's credit rating would be downgraded. Like so many other forecasts by this administration, he was wrong.
Ric Edelman, chairman & CEO of Edelman Financial Services, rated by Barron's as America's top independent financial adviser, tells me the market's downturn "is a political reaction, not an economic reaction. Soon, investors will realize their folly, and prices will recover nicely." He adds, "The economy is improving. Growth is slower than we'd like, but growth it is ... the 500 biggest companies in America are still sitting on $1 trillion in cash."
Getting that $1 trillion off the sidelines will also require a different political reaction. That will come in November 2012, which cannot come fast enough.
Email Cal Thomas at email@example.com.