This past week, the national debt reached $15 trillion — $50,000 for every man, woman and child in America. Last month, a New York Times/CBS poll showed that Congress' approval ratings had sunk to 9 percent. And on Nov. 8, Bill Keane, the creator of the comic strip "Family Circus," died.

This past week, the national debt reached $15 trillion — $50,000 for every man, woman and child in America. Last month, a New York Times/CBS poll showed that Congress’ approval ratings had sunk to 9 percent. And on Nov. 8, Bill Keane, the creator of the comic strip “Family Circus,” died.

Allow me to tie these three events together.

Let’s start with the first two, which are clearly related. The national debt has been rising on a mostly upward path since 1835, the last time the government didn’t owe anybody anything.

Now it is skyrocketing — by $4 trillion the past three years under President Bush’s last budget and President Obama’s first two.

The numbers are getting so big that we’re no longer even talking about reducing the debt. A so-called congressional “supercommittee” of six Democrats and six Republicans is just trying to reduce the increase in the debt by $1.2 trillion over 10 years. Even if it succeeds — and word out of Washington is that it is struggling — the debt still projects to well over $20 trillion by 2021 and still growing after that.

That’s a mortgage that we’re passing on to our children and grandchildren. Hence, a very deserved 9 percent approval rating for Congress.

Republicans and Democrats will blame each other for both the debt and the lack of progress in solving it, which is not surprising because they both have had more than a century and a half to learn how to do that.

That’s where Bill Keane, whose son now publishes the strip, comes in.

A recurring character in “Family Circus” is “Not Me,” a ghost-child responsible for all of the mischief that occurs in the household. Whenever one of the parents discovers a broken dish or a spilled flower pot, one of the children says it was “not me” who did it.

Get ready to hear a lot of “not me” until Election Day next November, when the debt will be more than $16 trillion and we each can add another $3,333 to our share.

That either Republicans or Democrats would blame the other party for what has occurred since 1835 under both of their watches is the height of hypocrisy. Since that last debt-free year, either a Republican or Democrat has been in the White House all but eight years, and continuously since the election of 1852. For the past 150 years, almost all members of Congress have been either a Republican or Democrat. The most that either party could say in its defense would be that the other is slightly more at fault.

At some point, members of both parties must realize that the lack of progress on the debt and other issues hurts them both. Nine percent approval ratings — that sticks to everybody up there, regardless of party label. In a poll released by USA Today and Gallup in August, only 21 percent of registered voters said most members of Congress deserve to be re-elected.

Unfortunately, as usual, a majority in that August poll also said their own representative is OK, which means we might have more of the same after next November. If that happens, then the responsibility for all of this red ink belongs to the voters, who eventually must accept that politics as usual is not going to address the usual problems.

We’ve been trading back and forth between Democrats and Republicans since 1860. Maybe it’s time to shake things up a little.

A healthy distrust of government is the American way. A collapse of faith in our institutions, on the other hand, could lead to a less prosperous and less free way of life. Nine percent approval ratings and $15 trillion debts — those are the kinds of numbers that make it foreseeable, somewhere in the future, for the nation to become something fundamentally different — and less — than it is now.

Which of us is going to sit by and let that happen? Not me.

• • •

Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas.