A Call for Modern-Day Patriots

GAO-06-990CG: Published: Jul 11, 2006. Publicly Released: Jul 11, 2006.

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This speech was given by the Comptroller General before the Sons of the American Revolution Annual Conference in Dallas, Texas, on July 11, 2006. Today, the United States is the greatest nation on earth and one of the world's longest-standing republics. We are also the only current global "superpower" with economic, political, military, and cultural influence that is felt around the globe. In addition, history shows that once America gets serious about an issue, we tend to go the distance and others are affected by our resolve. Given the passage of time and the nature and purpose of our organization, the SAR, it seems reasonable and appropriate to ask this question: What would the Founding Fathers say if they came back today? This evening, I'm speaking not just as the Comptroller General of the United States but also as a concerned citizen, father, grandfather, and SAR member, all roles that I cherish deeply. Based on a review of our past history, our current state, and our future prospects, it seems likely the founders would be pleased, proud, and concerned all at once. Today, due in part to the gerrymandering of congressional districts and the migration of members from the House to the Senate and the power of incumbency, many members of Congress are protected and the House and Senate as institutions are often polarized along party and ideological lines. In addition, the so-called "sensible center" is relatively small and under constant attack. Our Founding Fathers also believed in the concepts of prudence and stewardship. They recognized how important it is for a nation to avoid excessive debt and to not unduly burden future generations. In the last five years alone, our nation's total liabilities and unfunded commitments have gone up from about $20 trillion to over $46 trillion. That's about $411,000 per household, and it's growing every second, of every minute, of every day due to continuing deficits, known demographic trends, and compounding interest costs. Too many people today have a false sense of security due to recent healthy economic growth, modest interest rates, and moderate inflation levels. But things could change relatively quickly if we don't get serious soon about addressing our large, known, and growing fiscal imbalance.

The bottom line is that our nation's financial statements and long-range fiscal projections are filled with numbers that are big and bad. While the economy is strong today, it's clear that unless our elected officials get serious soon, we're headed for very rough seas in the years ahead-seas that could threaten to swamp our ship of state if we don't change course. Today, America has at least four serious deficits. The first is our budget deficit. The second is our savings deficit. The third is our balance-of-payments deficit. And the last, and possibly most serious one, is our nation's leadership deficit. The truth is our nation's leadership gap is a serious and nonpartisan challenge that requires a bipartisan and cross-sectoral solution. The simple truth is we need more leaders in the public, private, and citizen sectors with the courage, commitment, creativity, and credibility to sound the alarm, make tough choices, and stay the course until we starting seeing real results. We need more political leaders who are patriots rather than partisans. We also need more leaders who take their stewardship responsibility seriously. We have to keep in mind that while we are a great country with even greater potential, no republic in the history of the world has stood the test of time. In addition, history tells us that no "superpower" has been able to maintain its status over the long-term. The Roman Republic lasted over 500 years, but in the end it fell for various reasons. Three of them seem to be particularly relevant today. The first reason is declining moral values and political comity at home. The second reason is overconfidence and overextension abroad. The third reason is fiscal irresponsibility of the central government. We, the members of the SAR, should reaffirm the vision of Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, and our other founders and patriots by speaking up and demanding change when it comes to our nation's four key deficits. We need to act, and act soon. Failure to do so will ultimately harm our future economic growth, our future standard of living, and even our long-term national security.

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