Liberals and conservatives, who have united in an unprecedented orgy of federal spending, now are fighting over one thin dime.
Congress and the president, as Sen. John McCain noted recently, have been spending money like a drunken sailor — a slur that many believes gives drunken sailors a bad name. At least drunken sailors have been cooped up on ships for months and have a reason for their revelry; the government in Washington can claim no such excuse.
So liberals and conservatives aren’t exactly squabbling over whether to spend the dime. They are in complete agreement that the dime should be at least spent, if not completely thrown away. They are arguing over what the dime should look like.
The conservatives — that’s what they call themselves even if they do spend money like drunken sailors — want to put the image of Ronald Reagan on America’s dimes. They failed to get his likeness on Mount Rushmore and figure millions of tiny pictures of Dutch in American pockets would work as well as one huge one on a mountain in South Dakota.
The liberals want to leave the dime the way it is, with Franklin Roosevelt’s image just as it has appeared since 1946, the year after he died.
Thus the politicizing of almost every question in American public life goes on apace. Time was when most U.S. coins bore a representation of liberty and thus were politically neutral. The exception was the small-sized penny, born about the time of the Civil War with a flying eagle on the front, then an Indian.
Lincoln became the first president on the face of a coin when the penny began bearing his image in 1909, the centennial year of his birth.
Whether Democrats or Republicans get short shrift on our presidential coinage depends on your point of view. Democrats claim Jefferson (the nickel), Roosevelt (the dime) and Kennedy (the half-dollar). Washington (the quarter) is claimed by everybody.
Republicans claim Lincoln and Eisenhower (the dollar). That means Democrat coins outnumber Republican coins 3-2. But value-wise, the Republicans beat the Democrats by 36 cents. That seems pretty even-Steven to us.
The last thing this country needs now is a big stupid fight over whose picture goes on the dime. There probably are other ways to honor Reagan without also demoting FDR. On this one thing — OK, two: Both sides have abandoned all pretense of fiscal restraint — can’t we all just get along?