At dawn, the bald eagle rises from her nest, gliding through the fog along Virginia’s South Fork Rivanna River, not really sure what she seeks.
She is a symbol, a hope for a better tomorrow. She is a nation, flying proud and free.
Soon, the eagle begins to climb. There is a steep slope here, she discovers, and she feels compelled to find out where it leads. Breaking through the mist, she ascends to the top of the little mountain, coming upon a columned, octangular mansion. It is Monticello, the preserved home and grounds of Thomas Jefferson, the author of the declaration of independence. Soaring on the updraft of a Southwesterly wind, she turns away from this symbol of her freedom, heading North instead, across the Piedmont toward the far distance of Washington, D.C.
The eagle continues to fly upward, up and up, until she reaches sufficient altitude over the Virginia countryside. Locking her wings into position, she begins a long glide, riding the wind for miles. She soars, physically and metaphorically, over much of our nation’s early history⎯ Revolutionary and Civil War battlefields, rich agricultural land and horse farms, thriving towns.
Before too long, she starts to come within sight of the gleaming office towers of northern Virginia. These edifices form the crown jewels of what has become the wealthiest region in America, the Washington, D.C. suburbs and surrounding Virginia and Maryland counties, a sprawling governopolis stretching all the way to the beltway and beyond. (See Forbes list of wealthiest American counties.) This area’s tremendous wealth didn’t exist fifty years ago. It is a sight that would have been incomprehensible to Thomas Jefferson or George Washington.
Perhaps more than any other part of the country, Northern Virginia has been transformed in the past half century by the ever-rising tide of federal dollars flowing from the nation’s capital. Not just government jobs, thousands upon thousands of government-dependent private sector jobs and quasi government jobs at corporations like Freddie Mac and hundreds of others.
Almost all of which just so happen to be funded, directly or indirectly, by a government now a full sixteen trillion dollars in debt and spending a hundred billion dollars than it takes in each and every month.
Virginia, as a whole, has long been recognized as something of a bellwether in American politics. Barack Obama carried the commonwealth of Virginia in the election of 2008 and has repeated the feat in 2012.
But a closer look at the local and county election numbers at Virginia.gov reveals not one but two Virginias. By a margin of a hundred thousand votes, Mitt Romney handily won the overall vote in the broader commonwealth beyond the immediate suburbs of Washington, D.C. But when the vote tallies finally flowed in from Northern Virginia (NoVA, as most Virginians call it), the results shifted dramatically. Barack Obama again dominated the densely populated and government rich suburbs of Alexandria, Fairfax and Arlington Counties, earning nearly seventy percent of the vote—even more than he did in 2008–a two hundred thousand vote swing in Obama’s favor, which again turned Virginia his way.
In various ways, maybe not always quite so geographically apparent, this kind of pattern has been repeated across the country. As federal, state, and local government spending grows and grows and grows, the temptation for everyone, even those who call themselves fiscal conservatives, to latch onto the gravy train is irresistible. And it is often far more subtle and pernicious than simplified Obama attack ads about Mitt Romney’s infamous offhand “47%” comment would have one believe.
No one in their right mind would argue, for example, that seniors who have paid into a system to years should be denied their social security checks. But the sheer size and scope of our government now threatens to undermine the very spirit of independence, entrepreneurship, and self-reliance upon which America’s economy has always relied. President Obama insists he encourages and supports small businesses. But his words ring hollow when his actions, such as Obamacare (with has led to dramatic increases in private health insurance premiums for small businesses) and excessive regulation and taxation, serve to dissuade business ownership and the small startups he claims to want to support.
Even more unfortunate, as government politicians and bureaucrats continue to try to pick winners and losers from private industry with government dollars, rescuing certain politically sensitive entities, such as select banks or car companies in order to court millions of votes, they depress and artificially alter incentives for less fortunate competitors in the private marketplace, only further weakening the eagle of the overall economy. How long will politicians be able to rob Peter to pay Paul, preying on the resiliency of the formerly strong? Horrific scenes of defaults and riots coming from Europe, where such philosophies have been in place for decades and risen to high intellectual art, suggest not long.
Republicans thought the election was going to be about the greater economy. In some ways, they were right. Except in Virginia, the election hinged on the federal-spending-rich economy of Northern Virginia. And if Virginia is any kind of harbinger of the rest of the country, we can look for more and more of the same. The kind of fundamental economic reforms envisioned by Paul Ryan and the like will never be possible as long as politicians like Barack Obama are able to keep the financial and government spending plates spinning in the air. You can hardly blame nervous Americans–good, patriotic Americans–for voting for their own pocketbooks, especially if enough of them are convinced through a billion dollars worth of advertising that fundamental reform may threaten their livelihoods. Obama’s political strategy won the day. Will he and the rest of our leadership in Washington be able to pull a rabbit out of the hat and somehow magically be able to stave off the type of stagnation and upheaval now taking place in most of Europe? We should all hope and pray they can. Otherwise, the next financial meltdown will make 2008 look like a blip on the radar.
Our 2012 American eagle, if she sees any of this at all, decides to ignore it. She seeks shelter in the status quo. She votes once again for President Obama, hoping against hope the man in the Oval office will somehow be able to keep the borrowed dollars flowing, staving off the inevitable day of reckoning.
But as she crosses the Potomac and flies over Washington, D.C., America’s eagle begins to see another side of the nation’s capital from her vantage point in the sky. She looks at the prosperous Western portions of the city; then she gazes down on the vast Eastern and Southern sections, and discovers to her shock and dismay what has become one of the most racially and economically divided urban areas in the country. She sees whole neighborhoods where unemployment for young black males tops forty to fifty percent (see NPR-”Black Teenage Males Crushed By Unemployment”), where crime-ridden streets and crumbling schools force people to fight daily for their survival, all despite the President’s increased government spending and promises of more. With her enhanced vision, looking a little deeper into the nation as a whole, the eagle sees twenty three million Americans still unemployed, closing and struggling small businesses, a sizeable drop in net worth and incomes for the middle class.
It’s all a far cry from the gleaming wealth of the Northern Virginia governopolis she has just passed.
Still, our eagle continues to have faith in President Obama. She looks down upon the man in the oval office with tears in her eyes.
“I want to believe in you,” the eagle says. “You’ve promised us so much…what now?”