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The national debt is the punch line

An elderly gentleman walked into the bar last week and proceeded to tell me jokes.

The greatest joke-tellers can be reasonably assured that their jokes will wither and die with me, because I’m the world’s worst rememberer and re-teller of great jokes. I destroy good jokes, and it’s a shame, but I remember the punch lines.

So after the gentleman told me the one about the Murphy twins getting drunk and the one where the old man needs help to recall his wife’s name (Rose), he asked me if I’ve ever been to Europe.

I have been, but to keep him talking, I said I hadn’t, and he told me that the best place to live is France. “The government builds nice roads there, and you can go to college for free, and public transportation, why, they’ve got it down to a science over there,” he said.

I thought, “This is a joke, right?” I mean, come on.

“Everything you could ask for is taken care of; health care is terrific; in fact, it costs you nothing to stay at a hospital, unlike here where you’ll go to the poorhouse,” he continued. “Sure, they tax you at 50 percent, but your life is pretty much worry-free.”

I chuckled, thinking that was the punch line. Apparently this old socialist Democrat was not a consumer of the news of the recent riots in Paris due to high taxes. But I offered the fact that as someone about 40 years his junior, I am most worried about our debt.

“The debt has always been high; people have been complaining about the debt since I was 15,” he said.

“OK,” I thought, “this isn’t funny any more.” When he was 15, two parents didn’t have to work to support the family. When he was young, the nation was fighting and winning a world war and government debt was due to that. He was apparently unaware that our debt is due to accumulative massive spending on social programs and foolish intervention in the private sector.

So I countered that a trillion dollars is an unimaginable sum. He said, “So was a billion 30 years ago.” I said yes, but we owe upwards of $200 trillion in unfunded liabilities, to which he responded, “You should blame the president for giving those tax cuts to the rich.”

Are you kidding me? I’m not rude, so I just acted like I didn’t understand his point, rather than give him simple truths like, “We had those liabilities before Trump” and “You are benefiting from them” and “Congress has no plan to fix the shortfalls” and “They have extended us too far” and so on. He truly believes we should be taxed at 50 percent, and then everything will be hunky-dory.

As he got up to leave, I searched for a kind thing to say. “Well, you have a Merry Christmas, sir,” I said, and he laughed and said, “You too, thank you.” I thanked him for the great jokes, and he left.

I have thought a great deal about that meeting. I recalled that the answer to the debt that this socialist Democrat shared was exactly the same answer that was given to me by the first local Republican I met when I jumped into politics for the first time, ten years ago. “The debt has always been high.”

It’s like a punch line to a joke. Almost.

Then, cynically, I thought the old man could afford to think the way he did. His working years are over; he has Social Security and Medicare; and he chooses to live in America despite that it does not give him enough free stuff for his liking. I’m one of two and a half workers paying for his benefits. My back will still carry the increased consequences of high debt, and so will my children’s and their future children’s.

The debt-to-GDP ratio is near 100 percent and quickly reaching WWII levels, yet the Republicans are salivating over new infrastructure spending and the Democrats have their hearts set on Medicare for all and a global warming tax.

The government is closed because of a disagreement between two fiscally irresponsible parties about how to spend more money.

And the punch line is, “Don’t worry; the debt has always been high.”

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