Yes, Virginia, there is no free lunch
The call went out from sea to shining sea:
Volunteers were needed. Parent volunteers. Who else, after all, had the skills and the courage to take on a mission so difficult, yet so vital?
To Washington they streamed from every corner of the land—a trickle, then a torrent—to answer the call. To serve their nation in its hour of need.
“Your nation is in its hour of need,” said the plain-looking man in the plain-looking suit when they’d all gathered in the nondescript hall just blocks from the places tourists love to visit. “We are grateful for your service.”
It was a woman in the third row. But the chant died almost instantly.
“And for your patriotism. What we ask of you will not be easy.”
They had been told almost nothing. It was, somehow, was still enough to draw them there.
All of them have children, he reminded them. At least one of their children is at least 6 years old.
“So you’ve all had the conversation.”
He noted the blank expressions on their faces.
“The conversation about Santa Claus.”
And now the room relaxed.
“That couldn’t have been without its hazards,” he went on. “And yet you persevered. It was time for your loved ones to face the facts, and you were the ones who delivered that message.”
“What’s that got to do with saving the country?”
It was someone in the very last row. The plain-looking man in the plain-looking suit pressed a button, and a giant screen came scrolling down from the ceiling.
“These are the latest poll results. You’ve all got copies.”
The first slide on the screen was called “Deficit Crisis”—lines and numbers everywhere, and all of them bright red. It didn’t take a budget expert to see that there was a problem.
The next 10 slides were called “Deficit Remedies”—a long list of steps the government might take to try to reduce the deficit. Cutting this program. Ending that program. Getting rid of this deduction. Closing that loophole.
And next to each step, each possible “Deficit Remedy,” there were two numbers: the percentage of people who favored that step, and the percentage who opposed it.
“Everybody’s against everything!” It was the voice in the very last row again.
“That’s not quite it,” replied the plain-looking man. “They’re not against getting everything—they’re only against paying for it.”
There was a rustling sound, people shifting uncomfortably in their seats. The plain-looking man forged ahead.
“They want all their favorite programs to stay the way they are—they just don’t want to pay any more for them. Even though they’re digging us deeper into debt every day.”
A hand went up in the middle of the crowd.
“What about the rich? Why don’t we just raise taxes on the rich?”
“We could do that,” said the plain-looking man, as the hand became a triumphant thumbs-up. “In fact”—and now he moved to another slide—“it’s the only remedy that most people support!”
Scattered applause. He forged ahead.
“It would help—but it wouldn’t come near to solving the problem.”
Confusion now, in all directions. He pressed on.
“Remember that conversation you had with your kids about Santa Claus? How there really isn’t a Santa Claus? Well, we need you to have that kind of conversation again because there’s no government Santa Claus either. We actually have to pay for things!”
“But why don’t we…?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“But can’t we…?”
“I’m afraid not. So we need you to go back to your communities and have that conversation again. Starting with the face you see every morning in the mirror.”
The police report, when it arrived, was straightforward: “Sudden riot. Cause unknown.”
And this from the coroner: “Plain-looking man bludgeoned by binders.”
Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.