One powerful politician isn’t buying the U.S.-Greece comparisons. “But contrary to what people are saying, we are not Greece, we are not Portugal,” insisted President Obama in his Friday press conference. Perhaps the president envisions America as too big to fail, AIG to Greece’s Lehman Brothers. Perhaps he believes in American exceptionalism when it comes to debt. Whatever the basis of Obama’s declarative, it provides insight into his recalcitrance on meaningful spending cuts. It can’t happen here, he seems to believe, so why bother with the painful austerity measures causing so much controversy in Greece?
The president is right in one sense. America is not Greece—not yet, at least. But one is struck by the similarities both in Greece and America’s onerous debt-to-GDP ratios and the what-me-worry disposition of profligate politicians imagining that the crisis is about future obstacles to further borrowing rather than the accumulated weight of past borrowing.
The recent Greek past offers America an important cautionary tale. A more profound lesson can be gleaned from ancient Greek history. Greece once led the world in architecture, philosophy, sport, drama, conquest, and much else. Ancient Greeks probably thought that the world would always be the way it was. But change is the only constant. One era’s beacon becomes another’s basketcase. Dominant cultures become history when they don’t learn from it.
The Parthenon-inspired Lincoln Memorial isn’t the only part of Washington that resembles Athens.
Daniel J. Flynn is the author of Blue Collar Intellectuals: When the Enlightened and the Everyman Elevated America, forthcoming this fall from ISI Books. He writes a Monday column for Human Events and blogs at www.flynnfiles.com.
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