“When everything about a people is for the time growing weak and ineffective, it begins to talk about efficiency. So it is that when a man’s body is a wreck he begins, for the first time, to talk about health. Vigorous organisms talk not about their processes, but about their aims. There cannot be any better proof of the physical efficiency of a man than that he talks cheerfully of a journey to the end of the world. And there cannot be any better proof of the practical efficiency of a nation than that it talks constantly of a journey to the end of the world, a journey to the Judgment Day and the New Jerusalem. There can be no stronger sign of a coarse material health than the tendency to run after high and wild ideals; it is in the first exuberance of infancy that we cry for the moon. None of the strong men in the strong ages would have understood what you meant by working for efficiency. Hildebrand would have said that he was working not for efficiency, but for the Catholic Church. Danton would have said that he was working not for efficiency, but for liberty, equality, and fraternity. Even if the ideal of such men were simply the ideal of kicking a man downstairs, they thought of the end like men, not of the process like paralytics. They did not say, “Efficiently elevating my right leg, using, you will notice, the muscles of the thigh and calf, which are in excellent order, I–” Their feeling was quite different. They were so filled with the beautiful vision of the man lying flat at the foot of the staircase that in that ecstasy the rest followed in a flash. In practice, the habit of generalizing and idealizing did not by any means mean worldly weakness. The time of big theories was the time of big results. In the era of sentiment and fine words, at the end of the eighteenth century, men were really robust and effective. The sentimentalists conquered Napoleon. The cynics could not catch De Wet. A hundred years ago our affairs for good or evil were wielded triumphantly by rhetoricians. Now our affairs are hopelessly muddled by strong, silent men.” -G. K. Chesterton
Okay, so that paragraph isn’t really about the budget negotiations, but it does relate. Here’s the thing. Right now the United States government is running an annual deficit of 1.6 trillion dollars, give or take. The Republican-dominated House is fighting with President Obama and the Democrat-run Senate about this year’s budget. The Democrats are willing to cut spending by thirty billion dollars, give or take. The Republicans are saying they want sixty billion in cuts, give or take. However, they’d probably be willing to accept forty billion dollars of cuts, give or take. So all of the fighting is really only about ten billion dollars, give or take. And that’s barely half a percent of the total budget.
(And we’re not even going to mention the fact that this is the discretionary budget, while a much larger amount gets spent on Social Security and Medicare and other such programs.)
So we’re having a “historic” fight about about half a percent of the federal budget. Did Thomas Jefferson ever spend months wrangling about half a percent of the budget? Did Abraham Lincoln? I don’t believe that they did. When those guys were President, they had important things to deal with. But if we were trying to purchase the Louisiana Territory today, the bill would probably be held up while Congress debate whether to provide funding for the National Museum of crock pots. It’s good to have huge political battles. It’s bad to have them about trivial things.