Listen to the broadcast of You Tell Me on KTBB AM 600, Friday, March 1, 2013.
Before we turn to the business at hand, a personal note. The last person I would have expected to see at the final rally of the George W. Bush 2004 presidential campaign at SMU’s Moody Coliseum in Dallas was a renowned classical pianist. Republicans are not generally big with the glitterati of the arts. But there, directly behind me, sat Van Cliburn.
We claim Van Cliburn as an East Texas favorite son by virtue of his having grown up in Kilgore starting at age six. In 1958, the 23-year old Cliburn burst on to the world stage after having played this piece, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto #1, to an eight minute standing ovation at the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, an event intended to showcase Soviet cultural superiority. Even Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev was on his feet and could offer no objection to giving the first prize in the competition to an American.
This recording of that concerto, made a few weeks later, became the first-ever million-selling classical album and Van Cliburn became a household name.
That Monday evening in November 2004 I found him to be a gracious and kind man with a warm smile and a sunny disposition.
Van Cliburn lost his battle with bone cancer on Wednesday at his home in Ft. Worth. He was 78.
Today marks the culmination of yet another “crisis.” This time, it’s the “sequester” – the name given a series of automatic, blunt force reductions in government spending. The sequester goes into effect today. It is a crisis because it operates, by design, more or less across the board. It was intended to be painful to Democrats because of its impact on spending that Democrats favor, such as social programs; and painful to Republicans because of its impact on Republican-favored spending such as defense.
The president of late has been on the stump warning of everything from mass layoffs of teachers to hours-long flight delays that he says will happen as a result of the sequester.
The sequester came to be as a result of the Budget Control Act of 2011, itself the culmination of a crisis.
In July 2011 the federal government was on the brink of maxing out the federal credit card. That crisis is called hitting the “debt ceiling.” It’s that point in time when Congress, with its power over the purse, must authorize more borrowing so that the government will have cash to cover payroll and pay bills.
This past December, as we were trying to get in the mood for Christmas, we had the crisis called “the fiscal cliff.” That crisis centered on the fact that the tax rates enacted during the Bush administration were about to revert to those that were in effect during the Clinton years. In simple terms, it meant that every taxpayer was about to get a huge tax increase. At the same time, government spending was set to be slashed by sequestration.
That crisis was averted, in part, by putting off sequestration until today.
(Are you confused yet?)
The good news is that we won’t have a crisis again for another 26 days. That’s when the government again hits the debt ceiling.
The word for all of this is “chaos” and the country is growing weary of it. Chaos has taken the place of energy and direction and national purpose. It is coming to define the Obama presidency.
The president blames Congress; congressional Democrats blame Republicans; Republicans blame Democrats, including the president.
For my part I say a pox on all of their houses, for your part, I invite you to place blame wherever you see fit – with this caveat.
Whenever there is chaos it is appropriate to look to the guy at the top. In this case, that guy is Barack Obama. Above all, it is the president’s job to lead and Barack Obama is choosing not to.
It is hard for me to imagine the country lurching as it is from ceiling to cliff to looming catastrophe under Ronald Reagan. I don’t believe he would have ever let it happen.
But lest you dismiss my belief as that of a partisan, I will go on to say that I don’t think that Bill Clinton would have ever let it happen, either.