As long ago as 1811, French writer Joseph de Maistre penned a letter in which he said, “Every country has the government it deserves.”

Later attributed to everyone from Thomas Jefferson to Alexis de Tocqueville, it has come down to us as the maxim: “In a democracy, people get the government they deserve.”

In that case, we have been a very, very bad people indeed.

Exhibit 1 is the futile enterprise the “supercommittee” turned out to be.

The 12-member panel’s failure this week to agree on a plan to avoid $1.2 trillion in borrowing is widely described as a disaster, but some people are calling it the best possible outcome.

That’s because a huge figure like $1.2 trillion is, in fact, only a down payment on beginning to reduce our current $15 trillion in debt, let alone the trillions more in debt projected to come in the next 10 years.

As Investor’s Business Daily said in an editorial Monday, “The ‘failure’ of the supercommittee is better described as a success.

“Republicans stood firm against new taxes and got what they set out to achieve: deficit reduction that relies 100 percent on spending cuts.

“Given the political environment, Republicans were right to hang tough on tax hikes, take the $1.2 trillion in spending reductions, and hope Obama loses the next election so we can finally get serious about our debt crisis.”

But the hit it puts on our national defense needs over the decade is no joke, even if the Pentagon will still end up with more money than it gets now.

The problem isn’t the supercommittee, it’s Congress, which cannot overcome the party split between Senate and House and the obstructionism of President Obama, who sees his path to re-election founded on rejection of every budget the GOP has proposed.

(Note he was in Hawaii when the supercommittee was in its final talks. In the meantime, the GOP’s numerous budget proposals get no media attention and die in the Senate, where majority Democrats have not submitted a budget resolution in nearly two years.)

Columnist Thomas Sowell, a Hoover Institution fellow at Stanford, sees the outcome as a clear win for the Democrats: “If the goal was to reach a bipartisan solution to the country’s fiscal crisis,” Sowell said, “then the president’s involvement might have increased the chances of doing that. But, if the goal was to outsource the blame, then the president’s fading away into the background was the perfect political ploy.”

As he noted, “(B)ig spenders promise to make spending cuts to match tax increases — or even to exceed tax increases. Of course the tax increases come first and the spending cuts are spread out into the future — and usually end up not taking place at all. This particular charade could be ended by making the spending cuts take place first. But that would spoil the political game.”

And because the problem is in the derelictions of Congress and the president, it’s really in us, because we elected people with diametrically opposed views of the proper role of government.

Of course, the fiscally responsible side has the much harder sell, because living within our means is difficult to promote when people have been promised endless flows of money falling from the sky forever.

Now let’s look at Exhibit 2, which received majority bipartisan support in Congress last week and still failed to win approval: the so-called balanced-budget amendment, which needed two-thirds of the House to agree on it.

Fortunately, it fell short — because, as Mario Loyola of the Texas Public Policy Foundation wrote for National Review Online this week, the House version of the amendment had “no limitation on taxation or total spending, so the amendment could be enforced by a catastrophic across-the-board tax increase. … Without a strict limitation on taxation and spending, a balanced-budget amendment by itself could do more harm than good.”

Beyond that, the real problem with placing fiscal rules into the Constitution is that we would be counting on them, rather than our own good judgment, to pull our frying fiscal bacon out of the all-consuming inferno of our infinitely costly desires.

Better by far to value fiscal probity so much that we elect people to Congress — and the Oval Office — who know that making our entitlement programs fiscally sound for younger generations, along with liberating our economy from job-killing taxes and regulations, is the sole reliable path to prosperity.

So the supercommittee pushed the issue off until next November’s election?

If Sowell’s right, Obama’s efforts to blame the GOP may save him then. Or, Americans could decide that being deceived about the future isn’t the way to fiscal salvation after all.

Really, it is all up to us. Monsieur Maistre, call your office.

M.D. Harmon is a retired journalist. He can be contacted at:

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