If You're Sick, You Need Diagnosis

You may find this statement frighteningly naïve, but I’ve just watched a film… and consequently decided for whom I will cast my Presidential vote this November. I will be writing in “David Walker.”

Until March 12th this year, Walker was Comptroller General for the United States. “Spanning both Democratic and Republican administrations,” says his official bio, “Dave served as the federal government’s chief auditor. Appointed by President Bill Clinton and confirmed unanimously by the US Senate, he was an outspoken, nonpartisan advocate for addressing the major fiscal and other sustainability challenges facing the country.” He also served as “a Public Trustee for Social Security and Medicare from 1990 to 1995 and as Assistant Secretary of Labor for Pension and Welfare Benefit Programs during the Reagan administration”—so he knows a thing or two about the nation’s finances.

Ron Paul in I.O.U.S.ADuring his tenure as the head of the General Accountability Office, Walker began participating in the Fiscal Wakeup Tour, which the GAO describes as “a series of nationwide town hall-style forums to bring attention to the mounting federal debt as well [as] the challenges posed by emerging demographic and economic trends. … The goal of the Tour is to state the facts about America’s finances, encourage citizen involvement, and promote legislative and other reforms by federal, state, and local officials. This effort is scheduled to continue through the 2008 presidential elections.”

Walker, however, finally concluded that his official capacity with the Federal government was hampering his ability to “advocate for specific solutions, work proactively with grantees and other partners to build strong coalitions, and encourage and engage in grassroots efforts to bring pressure on Washington to act.” So Walker quit—and went to work for Peter G. Peterson, himself Nixon’s Secretary of Commerce and former chair of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Peterson has put up $1 billion of his own money to launch the PGP Foundation, which is “dedicated to increasing public awareness of the nature and urgency of several key challenges threatening America’s future, and to accelerating action on them… to bring Americans together to find sensible, long-term solutions that transcend age, party lines and ideological divides in order to achieve real results.” These challenges include the Federal budget deficits; the decrease in American citizen savings; Federal entitlement benefits (such as Medicare and Social Security); skyrocketing health care costs; energy consumption; and educational competitiveness.

Helmed in an admirably restrained fashion by Wordplay director Patrick Creadon, the documentary I.O.U.S.A. is PGP’s first salvo for raising the level of public awareness about what a 60 Minutes report dubbed “the dirty little secret everyone in Washington knows: a set of financial truths so inconvenient that most elected officials don’t even want to talk about them.”

Why is that?

Because we don’t want to hear about them.

Instead, we want to hear about Britney Spears, Bret Favre, Brangelina, American Idol, and Girls Gone Wild.

We’re sick, sick puppies, willing to listen as “Obama recommends his $80 billion in tax cuts for working families and retirees, his $65 billion-a-year plan to expand access to health care coverage, and his call for a $50 billion economic stimulus package.” Meanwhile, also according to the New York Times, “McCain proposes $100 billion in new tax cuts for corporations, $65 million for individuals by doubling the personal tax exemption for dependents, and a gas tax holiday on top of the Bush tax cuts he would make permanent.”

Get serious, America. As Dave Walker puts it, there is little point in being “the best-looking horse in the glue factory.”

According to the PGP Foundation, “The looming retirement of 78 million baby boomers has generated unpaid entitlement obligations that are triple the size of the entire economy—$175,000 for each American.” With the national debt now in the trillions and annual deficits in the hundreds of millions, I.O.U.S.A. highlights the fact that even the “balanced budgets” of the Clinton years leveraged Social Security trust surpluses earmarked to offset the program’s known future payouts—a classic case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

The film is full of chilling facts such as this. The last time the Federal government owed no one any money, for instance, was 1838. And the average Chinese worker saves over 40% of wages while living a Spartan lifestyle—all while home equities in America have dropped some 50% over the last two decades.

Either American households are mimicking the Fed’s spendthrift politics, or the politicians are simply listening to the priorities of a jaded, suspicious, self-centered populace that wants all America has to offer without sacrificing a thing.

To the film’s credit, though, it’s not all doom and gloom. The rather wacky Bob Bixby, for instance, who heads The Concord Coalition, is heavily featured in the film, providing a kind of sober-minded comic relief.

I.O.U.S.A. also presents the most serious mainstream examination I’ve seen regarding the role that China’s economy—the elephant in the global living room—plays in American foreign and economic policy. There is such a thing as “economic war,” the film points out, and it works in much the same way that blackmail does. “Who’s in your wallet?” is the key question in figuring out the angles in that global game; the film’s sole shortcoming, I think, is its failure to examine what might happen were China not brought into the global economy. The stakes are high, and highly complex.

In any event, I.O.U.S.A. really should be required viewing for every American—and for my money, prior to the election in November. At present, neither Democrats nor Republicans are listening to calls for fiscal reform—because we’re not asking them to. Americans need to change their thinking and their priorities, voluntarily choosing to sit through a film that—appropriately—feels like education, and then send some kind of a message to their leaders.

I’ll be sending mine on a blank line, upon which I will boldly and clearly print “David Walker.”

Browse around the film’s official site. Check out the 60 Minutes segment on Walker. Then see the film, if it’s playing near you. You won’t regret it, despite its potential to scare you or piss you off. So be it.

I.O.U.S.A. is rated PG for “some thematic elements.” Okay… look, there’s really no reason anyone should be worried about this film’s ratings. This ain’t a flick for the kiddies, but it sure couldn’t hurt your teenagers. Exercise some careful discernment about that, though: if they know you’ve seen this film but still haven’t changed anything, the potential for losing their respect could be considerable and difficult to salvage.

Courtesy of a national publicist, Greg attended a promotional event for the I.O.U.S.A. tour.