It's the season for thanks and gifts, which seem like appropriate subjects following an election in which takers and makers became a watchword phrase.
First it was Mitt Romney caught unaware on camera dismissing the 47 percent of Americans he claimed are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.
The basis of that charge? That 47 percent of Americans paid no federal income tax, which apparently made them takers. But on that score, General Electric, one of America's greatest business success stories, is a leech, since it paid no federal corporate income tax in 2010 despite earning $14.2 billion in profits, $5 billion of it in the U.S. (Full disclosure; I own some stock.)
Lately there's been a dustup about this comment Fox News star Bill O'Reilly made on election night as it became apparent Barack Obama would win a second term: And there are 50 percent of the voting public who want stuff. They want things and who is going to give them things?
Well, you can count me in that group, because I want things from my government and I'm not happy that I haven't been getting them. Things like smooth roads and safe bridges that don't damage my car and make me late; agencies that work to protect my health and safety against ineffective medicines or dangerous foods; a regulatory system that protects my savings and reins in the kind of reckless financial gambling that drove the economy to its knees; a tax scheme that treats all income fairly rather than giving preference to the lucky few who can prosper collecting dividend checks; and, yes, a health care system that assures no one must deplete a lifetime of savings before they can get the care they need to restore their vitality and productivity.
That's not to mention defending the nation against attack, negotiating trade agreements that benefit American companies and workers and supporting public education so young people can get the knowledge and skills needed to thrive in an increasingly competitive global economy.
So, do I expect presents from my government? I prefer to think of it as a return on the investment I've been fortunate enough to make through my taxes. I couldn't always contribute, because I didn't earn enough … I guess that was my taker stage. When I made more, I complained about writing the checks, but knew I got to keep far more than I gave.
Am I thankful for the duty to pay taxes? That would be a stretch, although gratitude would come easier if government got more things done more quickly. Civic pride is a great equalizer – all citizens can admire a beautiful park, a striking statue or even a smooth ribbon of pavement. Equally important, we can't feel comfortable making a claim to greatness as long as so many of our fellow citizens live in poverty, struggling to provide themselves and their families minimal living conditions.
After decades of denial, it's critical to the financial health of the nation and the future prosperity of businesses and individuals that the President and Congress get the federal government's economic house in order. Nearly all of us will have to help, whether by paying a little more or taking a little less. The word sacrifice is overused when describing the necessary changes and it's incorrect given the path we're on if nothing is done.
Instead we need a shared commitment to strengthening our national balance sheet, mindful that any hardship lays the groundwork for a stronger future.