“What was it that Louis XV used to say? ‘Après moi, le déluge’?”

So ends David Gergen’s CNN column today on the failure of the “super committee” of the Congress to address the debt problem that is slowly killing us as a people. The chief counselor to four presidents across the political spectrum of left to right, I have thought of him as a “Daniel-like” figure in American politics. Most of the time presidential advisers are partisan defenders, arguing with vigor and skill for the White House agenda. Gergen has had a different life, perhaps even a different vocation.

So while I often agree with him, the headline of his piece is only partly true, viz. “Have They Gone Nuts in Washington?” Yes, Washington has gone nuts—but the harder, deeper truth is that America is going nuts. In a thousand different ways the culture is upstream from politics; the Washingtons of the world respond to popular opinion, to the voice of the people, vox populi and all.

And so the first truth is that Denver and Des Moines, Seattle and Sarasota, Boston and Bakersfield, Pittsbugh and Phoenix, don’t want to address the dissonance between our income and expenses in the national budget. Manana, manana….

I agree with Gergen that “this failure of the super committee represents a reckless, irresponsible gamble by our ‘leaders’ in Washington. It’s difficult to remember a Congress that has put the nation so much at risk in the service of ideology and to hold onto office. Partisans on both sides are grievously failing the country. An honest assessment would lay blame on the White House doorstep, too. Yes, the president finally put up a plan a few weeks back and made a few phone calls. But he has been exercising the most passive leadership imaginable.”

But it is also true that politicians have their fingers-to-the-wind, and they know that the people don’t want to make the changes that are required—and therefore are unwilling to risk their careers over the wrath of the voters for making votes that the voters do not want. Tomorrow, tomorrow…. the problem is that in the world we really do live in, someday tomorrow is today.

In another time and place another Frenchman, Francois de La Rochefoucauld, put it this way, “We are so much accustomed to disguise ourselves to others, that at length we disguise ourselves to ourselves.”

Après moi, le déluge“? After me, the deluge.


Steven Garber is the Senior Fellow for Vocation and the Common Good for the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust. A teacher of many people in many places, he continues to serve as a consultant to colleges and corporations, facilitating both individual and institutional vocation. A husband, a father and a grandfather, a he has long lived in Washington DC, living a life among family, friends, and flowers.

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