As the U.S. National Debt approaches $15 trillion, roughly $60,000 for every man, woman, and child in the country, with the federal government apparently unwilling or unable to do much about it other than wait for an improving economy, the natural assumption would be that gold and silver prices in U.S. dollars would point no place but up.

And America’s ongoing economic crisis is not the only fuel available for powering the price of precious metals. Although glimmers of hope are making the news, the continuing housing crisis, increasing political unrest in North Africa, and terrorist attacks in Russia, would seem certain to prevent any meaningful retreat in the price of such historic hedges.

Yet none of this has been enough to prevent gold from falling $107 so far in 2011, with silver down a full 13% since the start of the new year. Even when Moody’s came out with a warning that it may issue a negative outlook on U.S. debt within the next two years, precious metals simply yawned, an event made more surprising by the fact that Standard & Poor’s just downgraded Japan’s rating, its first hit in 8 years.

Part of gold’s drop can be traced to technical factors, with hedgers selling when gold was no longer needed to protect expired option positions. But traders could easily hasten a fall if approaching support levels are breeched. The current psychological level is $1,300.

There’s little doubt, however, that demand for gold and silver is out there. Retail buyers are active, and could become major drivers if bottoming prices or news events stir sideliners to action. The reaction could be particularly strong for silver, where supplies are still tight.