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Spending Your Money Like There’s No Tomorrow: The Parable of Uncle Barry

The Democrats, led by President Barack Obama and Senator Harry Reid, keep telling Americans that everything will be great, if their Republican opponents would just stop blocking their plans. In this battle over the nation’s debt limit and annual budget, the Democrats have been brutal in their rhetoric, accusing their opponents of being extremists, anarchists, arsonists, hostage-takers, bomb-strapping terrorists, spouse abusers, extortionists, creatures from another planet, a different breed of cat, and a fast-food employee threatening to spit on a customer’s french fries if the customer does not pay extra money to avoid the spitting.

Now that the Senates Republicans have surrendered, this anger and name calling should quickly dissipate, but what about the lasting damage that will have been done to our Constitution?  Our Founders knew that the power over how a nation borrows money was so basic to a nation’s survival that they had to place it in the hands of many people, not just one, so they gave that power expressly to Congress. And in exercising that power, some of the Republicans in Congress refused to surrender to ALL of Obama’s demands.  That is why the Democrats have been so angry.  Obama claimed that his right to force the nation to borrow additional money was not negotiable and could not be restricted by any limitations whatsoever, not even those in the Constitution.  He demanded to seize that power from Congress, because in his twisted view of the Constitution, that power may be vested in Congress, but only if Congress exercises that power exactly how he demands.  Only he knows what is best for our nation. And with such a brilliant and capable leader, why do we even need that silly notion of checks and balances between the branches of government? In fact, why do we even need that outdated notion of Congress? And the sad result is that our cherished system of checks and balances takes yet another hit, leading us closer to the dreaded day when only one of the three branches will remain.  Peace now, but at what future cost?

All of that reminds me of a story about my Uncle Barry …

My father’s brother, Uncle Barry, was the life of the party, had a great smile, was very popular, and seemed like so much fun to be around. He was one of those guys that became famous, just for being famous, and was followed around by the paparazzi. And when he spoke, people really listened. He always talked about helping the little guy and doing great acts of charity. And he really did help a lot of people. But, he also liked to play golf, travel, and eat at the finest restaurants. Sometimes, he and 200 of his guests would charter a plane to Asia for a weekend trip. It seemed like he was really wealthy, and was making a ton of money, but, in reality, he was spending a lot more than he made.

He approached my parents and asked them to borrow money. They really believed in Uncle Barry and his potential, and he was making a ton of money, so they made him the loan. Every month, he would pay them interest at the rate they agreed on, but he never paid back any of the loan itself. About a year later, Uncle Barry asked to borrow even more money. He was very convincing, telling my parents that he was making more money than ever, but that without the additional loan, he could not afford to feed his kids, or buy clothes and medicine for them, and he would have to sell his house and move into an apartment. So with reluctance, they lent him even more money.

Shortly thereafter, my father was invited to the local Country Club to play golf with a friend. He was shocked to see Uncle Barry there, sitting around a huge table. My father stayed out of sight and watched as Uncle Barry announced he was picking up the tab. My father knew that only Members of the Club could sign for a check, because he had once tried to pick up the lunch tab for his friend, and was told he could not. The monthly dues at that Club were over $10,000 per year! After that, he watched Uncle Barry hop into a very expensive car and take off. My father was furious. He was barely feeding and clothing his own children, and could really use that money that he had lent his brother. Yet here was Uncle Barry, spending money like there was no tomorrow — correction, spending my family’s money like there was no tomorrow!

Again, Uncle Barry came looking to borrow more money. My parents stayed calm and told him they would not lend him another dime, especially after seeing how reckless he was spending it. Uncle Barry was furious and started screaming at them. Who did they think they were to just cut him off like that out of nowhere? Didn’t they understand? This was not negotiable. They were going to lend him more money. And if they refused, he would unleash fury on them like they have never seen. Uncle Barry threatened to go to every one of my father’s customers and tell them to stop doing business with them. He called my mother horrible names. And he threatened to steal my piggy bank.

Even worse, he demanded that my parents accompany him to their bank, where they would be forced to fill out a signature card authorizing Uncle Barry to withdraw funds from my parents’ bank account, at any time. And if Uncle Barry seized all of their money, he would not have to spend a dime of it paying off my family’s loans, including our mortgage or credit card balances. He could pay himself first, and then maybe, if he felt like it, pay off our debts, even if it caused my parents to go into default or bankruptcy. Uncle Barry could not believe my parents were holding him hostage. Why were they being so reckless?

So my father called the newspaper, thinking that Uncle Barry cared so much about his reputation that he would back down, and would stop acting so harshly, if a columnist could expose this ordeal. The newspaper agreed, and then proceeded to write a column lambasting my parents for being so reckless and extreme, implying that any reasonable person in my parents’ shoes would never deny an additional loan to Uncle Barry, especially considering how he was such a great citizen and cultural icon. Neighbors started calling us and protesting in front of our house. So, faced with losing our house and not being able to pay any bills, my parents reluctantly lent some more money to Uncle Barry, knowing full well that he would be back for an additional loan in a few months.

Somehow, I just don’t see how my parents, acting as responsible stewards of their hard-earned money, are anarchists, wife beaters, arsonists, hostage-takers, bomb-strapping terrorists, extortionists, or all-around haters of french fries.

Dave Beltrami is a lawyer and political analyst.  He received his Juris Doctor and Master of Laws (Taxation) degrees from the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C.

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