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No skin in the game

A n Internet search is inconclusive as to where the phrase “no skin in the game” originated. Some ascribe it to the late columnist William Safire; others to investor Warren Buffett. Politicians often use the phrase to justify policies to their liking. It can also be applied to the latest in a long list of their outrageous behaviors, as well as to those of President Obama.
Like an increasing number of politicians, the president has never served in the military, nor has he ever run a business. He has never headed a company that needed to make a profit (and thus employ people who create things people wish to purchase). He has likely never had to produce a balance sheet. His entire career — and that of too many other politicians — appears to have been about redistributing other people’s money and organizing “communities” to receive government benefits.
Very few elected officials see themselves as stewards; even fewer practice stewardship. It’s an old word, stewardship, but it is a word that carries weight and authority. One entry on dictionary.com defines it as “The responsible overseeing and protection of something considered worth caring for and preserving.”
We the people grant power to political leaders. Along with that power goes — or ought to go — a presumption that the men and women we elect are stewards, or caretakers of America; that they will behave as responsible overseers of what has been entrusted to them. We expect them to see our country as worthy of protection and preservation, for us and for future generations.
Can this president and Congress credibly say their irresponsible spending and the “fiscal cliff” they are driving us toward meet this definition?
Have you ever been entrusted with someone else’s property? A car, a family heirloom? Unless you are terribly irresponsible, you probably took care of it, making sure it was not damaged and that you returned it to its owner in the same, or better, condition than when you received it.
Politicians operate differently. They take what is not theirs and irresponsibly tax, spend or over-regulate it. Too many are not invested in America. They have no skin in the game.
Democracy as practiced in our constitutional Republic is fragile. It is not the natural state of humanity. Look around the world and see how many nations come close to America in economic strength, endowed rights and standards of morality. What we have is not inherited, as from a will. It must be fought for, sometimes in war, but always against our lower nature, which too often succumbs to the temptation to give people what they want, rather than what they need; to trade goodies for votes, preserving not the country, but political careers.
A self-indulgent nation cannot long exist, at least not as the nation delivered to us by our forefathers. Our ancestors learned to do without in order to retain things of real value. I was taught that excessive debt was a great evil because it contributed to a loss of freedom. If that is true for individuals, it is truer still for our country.
America is slowly descending into a kind of economic slavery. We are shackling our posterity with a debt load we are unlikely to pay off.
Things might be different if the president and Congress saw themselves as stewards. Instead, they behave as they do because they have little or no skin in the game.

E-mail: tmseditors@tribune.com.

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