Reversing climate change will create green jobs. Tax cuts spur the economy. Everybody wins when everybody is covered by health insurance. Putting the American military to work in the Middle East could bring democracy to the region and American security in its wake.
That's what we're told, what we're sold.
Then comes the bill.
Attacking climate change may create some jobs, but weaning industry and individuals off of fossil fuels is sure to strain overall economic growth. Cutting taxes tends to add to the deficit, perhaps begetting higher taxes later. Providing health care to more than 46 million uninsured Americans will cost real money.
Politicians prefer not to talk about all the pesky sacrifices that are needed to give bold action a chance to succeed. This is a country where prosperity has been the norm, an era when technology has made so many things so much easier.
Is it no wonder that Americans, shocked already by a year of economic shakiness, aren't eager for sacrifice?
"Political leaders never want to talk about the negative trade-off, but the reality is there aren't any easy, quick answers to our big problems," said Cindy Williams, a defense budget analyst at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Our leaders are, after all, playing to their audience. Don't we all want more over less? And wouldn't it be swell if somebody else picked up the tab?
"There's a selfishness in the land," said Alan Simpson, a former U.S. senator from Wyoming. "In my 18 years (in the Senate) I never heard anyone come in and ask for less. Not once."
We are torn. Polls tend to show that two in three Americans think the government ought to take care of those who can't fend for themselves. Yet according to a Pew Center poll, two-thirds of us believe "many people today think they can get ahead without working hard and making sacrifices."
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