Why Isn’t Our Only Debt a Debt of Gratitude?

by Whitney Pitcher

thank you vets

As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible, avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it, avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertion in time of peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear. The execution of these maxims belongs to your representatives, but it is necessary that public opinion should co-operate. To facilitate to them the performance of their duty, it is essential that you should practically bear in mind that towards the payment of debts there must be revenue; that to have revenue there must be taxes; that no taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant; that the intrinsic embarrassment, inseparable from the selection of the proper objects (which is always a choice of difficulties), ought to be a decisive motive for a candid construction of the conduct of the government in making it, and for a spirit of acquiescence in the measures for obtaining revenue, which the public exigencies may at any time dictate.

The above excerpt comes from President Washington’s farewell speech\. This speech has come to mind multiple times during Washington DC’s latest act of political theater.  Those words may have been spoken 217 years ago, but they are just as relevant today as they were then. In the meantime, our nation has gone deeper and deeper in debt. The last time we did not have debt as a nation was during President Jackson’s tenure (in 1835). Our debt has waxed and waned over the years, but nonetheless, it continues to climb.

Why haven’t our leaders taken to heart President Washington’s words? They have not cherished the public credit. They have abused it–both parties. Both parties have decried raising the debt ceiling when their party is not in the White House while raising the debt ceiling seemingly without question when their party is in power. Washington believed that preserving the public credit means that debt should be incurred in rare circumstances. He also believed that the only times its should be utilized in during “unavoidable wars” as to not burden future generations.

However, just weeks ago our government was poised to get involved in a battle between two evils in Syria–clearly an avoidable war that would require billions in spending. Rhetorical battles continue to be waged in Congress over Obamacare–legislation that is poised to add billions to our national debt.   Other rhetorical battles are being fought over a resolution to fund a bloated, yet currently supposedly shutdown government and to raise the debt ceiling yet again.

In the midst of all these threats of avoidable and political rhetorical battles, there has been a neglect of those who have fought in true battles to preserve the strength and security of which President Washington spoke. During the shutdown of our bloated government, memorials honoring the fallen have been barricaded, benefits to families of the fallen have been threatened, and bodies of the fallen have not been shown proper respect. Some of these things have been rectified–either by politicians trying to save face or by the veterans themselves.

Earlier today during the worship service I participated in with my church family, a man–a veteran– got up to give a brief message before we partook of communion. He spoke of the sacrifice of both Jesus and American soldiers– one man who died to save our souls and the many men and women who died to protect our freedom. He noted a quote that one of his co-workers  has as an e-mail signature that reads something like this “there are only two entities who have given their lives for you expecting nothing in return”. This, of course, alludes to both Christ and American soldiers.

We owe Christ a debt of gratitude that of course we can never repay. We owe American soldiers a debt of gratitude that we can poorly attempt to repay. Our political leaders must heed President Washington’s word about cherishing the public credit. We should not continue accruing debt for bloated government, temporary programs that become permanent, and an ever list of increasing agencies, departments, and bureaus. Our only debt should be to those who have given of themselves to protect the freedom we have in this nation. A freedom that diminishes every time we add to a monetary debt rather than a humble debt of gratitude.

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