When I was engaged full-time in law enforcement, I was once searching a house pursuant to a federal warrant. While I was looking for evidence of the federal crime we had probable cause to believe had been committed, I came across a child’s school essay entitled “Responsibility.” I had an immediate strong sensation that a child growing up in this house was going to have a different lesson in the subject than I, my brothers and sisters, and most of my friends and neighbors had growing up. I can tell you that the urge was very strong to read it to this grinning mobster after we arrested him, and ask him exactly what his plans were for this kid.

Whether Mitt Romney is right or wrong about who is inclined to vote for him this fall, it is clear that responsibility is a word of variable enough meaning that people on wholly different sides of particular issues having to do with bearing any of society’s burdens all seem to think that it is a wonderful concept. Part of what Gov. Romney said appears to be true enough.  People who don’t pay income taxes are not captivated by political campaigns built around tax cuts. The taxes that they do pay are largely as out-of-sight to them as any potential discounts, rebates or subsidies they would accrue. (In fact, there still seem to be a number of citizens who think that “tax cut” means that their refunds will diminish.)

Dependency is a word that is used mostly to describe a condition of other people. Despite the urge to use, or at the far end, to “game” the system that is increasingly an imperative for a middle-class family, even folks who like to brag about chiseling or outsmarting the system to avoid paying out-of-state tuition or whatever still bristle at the notion that they are dependent. So we talk about responsibility. I use the word to mean providing for myself and my family, but someone else means my responsibility to them or to those who for some reason find themselves standing on a different rung on life’s ladder.

Is it the responsibility of the government to speak your language, if it isn’t English? Can anything be done to mitigate the surging poverty rates driven largely by the increase in number of single-parent households? Does anybody remember that the poverty rates in this country were trending down for several years before the “Great Society” became law? Is this a responsibility issue, and if it is, of which sort?

For either meaning, I am surprised that the Republicans have not countered the “war on women” based on availability of abortion and wage differentials with the war on children that our lack of one particular kind of responsibility entails. Over the weekend, former U.S. Comptroller-General David Walker brought his “$10 Million per Minute” (a shorthand expression for federal spending) bus tour to Ohio. The debt burden clock in the picture above is one of his exhibits, and these are now appearing in many locations. He convened about 200 Ohioans across the demographic, gender and political divides to listen to a presentation on what irresponsibility is going to do to this country, and he says we have to start working on the reforms next year.

His reforms, some of which will be detailed shortly in this space, were measured against a screen of six characteristics. Each had to be socially equitable, mathematically accurate, culturally acceptable, politically feasible, pro growth and capable of attracting bipartisan support. Reacquiring control of our nation’s finances will require comprehensive solutions.

Of this group, 35% identified themselves as Democrats, 29% as independents, and 28% as Republicans. 88% strongly agreed with the recommendations and 7% more agreed with the budget proposals last week. The first of these is to suspend the pay of the members of Congress if they have not passed a budget by the statutory deadline, until they do so.

A lot of people came together on at least one vision of responsibility.

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