Guest Column

What will be written about U.S. in summer of ’55?

September 4, 2015
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Please fire the speechwriter whose candidate states, “This is the most critical election of a lifetime.” I’ve heard it before and it wasn’t true then and it probably isn’t true now, but the next election will be our choice for economic sanity, or status quo.

History repeats.

Summer in Michigan. We read the president took a carriage ride from the governor’s mansion to purchase fudge before an 18-hole round on Mackinac Island’s golf course with the Michigan’s governor and other prominent Republicans. 

Obama didn’t visit Mackinac in 2015, though. But President Ford did during the summer of ’75 — 40 years ago.

Forty years ago this summer, Michigan’s population was 9.12 million; 40 years later it is 9.9 million. We danced to “The Hustle,” snapped bubble gum to the beat of Captain and Tenille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together.” “Jaws” hit theaters and kept many from ocean beaches. (I admit it even had me looking more closely as I dipped my 10-year-old toes into Lake Michigan). While I was likely pedaling my bike on a warm Wednesday afternoon near the Ada Drug store, stuffing a Marathon bar in my mouth, Jimmy Hoffa entered a car at the Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield Township, never to be seen again.

Here are some other facts about the Great Summer of 1975 — and 40 years later:

The U.S. debt was $534 billion. Forty years later, our national debt is $17 trillion. Our GDP was $5.32 trillion. Now it is $16.4 trillion. 

We read about the Senate Church (D-Idaho) Commission investigating CIA overreach into CIA and federal search practices. Now we have the Benghazi Committee and concerns about federal agencies’ collecting personal Internet and phone data.

President Ford pardoned Robert E. Lee for his role in the Civil War. Forty years later, President Obama and others implore the public to take down the Confederate battle flag. 

We could buy a stamp for a dime and fill up our tank for about 65 cents a gallon. Today, a stamp is 49 cents, and regular gasoline is more in the $2.50-$2.75 range in Grand Rapids.

Congress debates funding available due to the drawdown of the Vietnam War. Forty years later, we debate savings from the drawdown in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

The Democratic Party offered 14 candidates for president (including Jimmy Carter, Jerry Brown, Lloyd Benson and Sargent Shriver). Now the Republicans have at least that many and more to come (including the outspoken Donald Trump).

The National League won 6-3 at the 1975 All-Star Game with Hank Aaron’s last appearance. Glen Campbell sang the “Star Spangled Banner” — the only musical performance of the night. This year’s All-Star game is known widely for a 22-year-old singer who was replaced as the entertainment because she licked display-case donuts and expressed contempt for America.

Although I majored in political science, I’ve always enjoyed history and I believe it repeats itself. Although the details above may slightly differ, trends are similar because human beings are predictable and confounding at the same time.

Today, we face lone wolves inspired by Hollywood-quality videos from ISIS attracting disaffected youth in the United States. We now know that deficits do matter and the debt owed to the Japanese and Chinese, the entitlements, if unchanged, Social Security and pensions will eventually crush us in less than 20 years. How will we deal with our crumbling roads and bridges to enable the commerce to flow? How can we capitalize on our own reserves of fossil fuels while maintaining a healthy environment for our children?

These are all questions one of the candidates this year will face if he or she becomes president. The next president also will have to deal with a Congress that is becoming ever-more divided and incapable of moving necessary spending bills, increasing the threat of sequestration.

Meanwhile, the Congressional Budget Office’s 2015 Long-Term Budget Outlook reports government revenues are projected to fall well short of spending in the next 25 years, and projected budget deficits will double to 6 percent of GDP by 2040, and mandatory programs are projected to cost 14.2 percent of GDP, double what they averaged over the last 50 years.

Our country’s reliance on debt to prop up the economy, along with rising interest rates and taxes, may lead to a disincentive for private investment unless we can implement a reasonable and long-term deficit reduction plan.

This begs the question of what will be written 40 years from now — the summer of ’55.

I believe in the spirit of America. Freedom, industry and opportunity have been the constants that have kept us from catastrophe, but if we cannot address our borrowing — the crippling debt that lurks within two decades — we will go the way of Greece and other countries that can no longer service their debt.

Grand Rapids native Steve Carey is president of Potomac Strategic Development Co. in Washington, D.C.

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