Ever since Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) suggested President Barack Obama invoke the 14th Amendment to raise the federal debt ceiling, there's been a minor brouhaha over Clyburn's assertion that President Harry Truman did so during his presidency.
Admittedly, "Give 'em hell, Barry!" loses something without the alliteration.
In fact, Truman never did raise the federal debt ceiling. In fact, since the nation started using the debt ceiling in 1939, Truman was the only President who didn't raise the debt ceiling. The debt ceiling was incrementally raised to the princely sum of $300 billion - hardly enough to keep Wendi Murdoch in shoes - during World War II, was reduced to $275 billion in 1945, and remained $275 billion until 1954, when Dwight David Eisenhower, or "Ike," who everyone apparently liked, was President.
Whether Truman was inspired by the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to issue Executive Order 9981 integrating the United States Armed Services, as some have suggested, is another issue entirely. However, there is no mention of the 14th Amendment in the Executive Order, or reference to the amendment in the Truman Library's discussion of the Executive Order.
Whatever Truman did, Obama should certainly use 14th Amendment to raise the debt ceiling instead of submitting to Republican blackmail demands gutting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Certainly, Obama should use the 14th Amendment to raise the debt ceiling instead of allowing Republicans to blackmail the nation again a few months from now. Certainly, Obama should use the 14th Amendment to raise the debt ceiling instead of rewarding Republicans with legislative changes they could never pass through the normal legislative process.
Obama should certainly use the 14th Amendment to raise the federal debt ceiling simply because Republicans are intransigent on the very reason Truman never had to raise the debt ceiling at all.
In Truman's day, the federal government managed to fund the GI Bill, rebuild Europe with the Marshall Plan, poke the Soviet Union in the eye with the Berlin Airlift, and help develop all the technologies that gave us computers, the internet, cell phones and rockets to the moon without raising the debt ceiling.
In Truman's day, the federal government, wrestling with a troubled economy converting from war production to civvies, managed to send countless veterans to college or vocational training, and provided low-interest loans for housing and living expenses without raising the debt ceiling. In Truman's day, the federal government built war-devastated Western Europe, with its millions of displaced refugees, millions of demolished homes, countless destroyed roads, and bridges, and dams, and factories into the economic power it is today without raising the debt ceiling. In Truman's day, the federal government fought the Korean War without raising the debt ceiling.
In Truman's day, all that and much, much more was possible because, instead of borrowing, the federal government did this little thing called collecting taxes.
In his day, President Ronald Reagan slashed taxes, but had to raise the debt ceiling 18 times.
Today, instead of being able to rebuild 5,000,000 homes and care for 12,000,000 refugees in bomb-devastated West Germany as Truman did, a handful of the ultra-wealthy sit in luxury boxes at Yankee Stadium.
Today, instead of educating an entire generation of Americans and innovating the new technologies of the 21st Century as Truman did, a handful of rich codgers fuss over their art collections and trophy wives.
Today, instead of building the infrastructure for the next generation, we nip and tuck and botox and tan the spotted countenances of a privileged past generation.
Without addressing revenue, whether Barack Obama uses the 14th Amendment to raise the debt ceiling doesn't make a hill of beans worth of difference in the world. The ruinous tax policies of the last thirty years have paupered a nation that could, and did, once rebuild one entire world and create a whole new one for the future. The ruinous tax policies of the last thirty years have managed only to concentrate 84% of the nation's wealth in the hands of 20% of its people, with no payoff except that a handful of people can plaster themselves with enough designer labels to look like prissy Nascar drivers and turn everyone around them into peasants subjugated by armies of lawyers, lobbyists and politicians.
84% of the nation's wealth is being spent on the creation of a world miserable even for the wealthy few, instead of the building of a better world for everyone. 84% of the nation's wealth, an entire future for a whole generation, is being horded away in arcane financial instruments and funnelled into the intellectually bankrupt social engineering of an ignorant and greedy few. 84% of the nation's wealth is being squandered on so many legal briefs and politicians' perks to bludgeon away oversight of business and industry, respectable wages for workers and educators and first responders, and environmental protections.
84% of the nation's wealth is being squandered on the exhausting one of world, instead of the building of many.
Whether Barack Obama uses the 14th Amendment to raise the nation's $14.3 trillion debt ceiling only matters in that it will allow the government to function a bit longer, send out Social Security and Medicare and veteran's checks for a few more months, and prevent the catastrophic cascade failure of the world's financial markets for another day.
Until Americans give themselves the revenue tools Americans had in Truman's day, whoever the future belongs to, they won't be Americans.