Monday, October 10, 2011

A Crying Shame

The more I think about Steve Jobs, the more I agree with Thomas Friedman in The New York Times:

“He was someone who did not read the polls but changed the polls by giving people what he was certain they wanted and needed before they knew it; he was someone who was ready to pursue his vision in the face of long odds over multiple years; and, most of all, he was someone who earned the respect of his colleagues, not by going easy on them but by constantly pushing them out of their comfort zones and, in the process, inspiring ordinary people to do extraordinary things.”

The more I think about our elected officials in Washington, the more I reluctantly agree with Thomas Friedman in The New York Times:

“There isn’t a single national politician today whom you would describe by those [Jobs’] attributes.  Neither party is saying: Here is the world we are living in; here are the big trends; here is our long-term plan for rolling up our sleeves to ensure that America thrives in this world because it is not going to come easy; nothing important ever does.  What is John Boehner’s vision? I laugh just thinking about the question. What is President Obama’s vision? I cry just thinking about the question.”

I hate it when I agree with Thomas Friedman, not because he isn’t often right, but because this isn’t rocket science.  This should be so much less difficult than an awful lot of really stupid people are making it out to be.  But then Friedman has made a career out of stating the obvious, hasn’t he?

Looking at the political landscape these days is like looking at an iceberg adrift on the ocean.  You know it will eventually wind up in warmer climate where it will melt, but at the moment all you can focus on is its immense proportions, its icy and formidable composition and the hazard it poses to navigation.   

These are perilous times in America.  Solutions are almost impossible to come by.  A sitting president is all but paralyzed by an innate inability to craft a narrative and define a vision, not only for his administration, but for the country as a whole.  And an opposition party seems more intent on stringing him out and letting the ballot box decide the issues next fall, rather than be a partner in a workable process that could enhance his reelection prospects.  Both sides seem hopelessly locked in a stalemate.  Paralysis vs. intransigence.  And you thought “War of the Roses” was a just another silly movie.

In normal times, the Left / Right debate would be healthy, even vital for the nation.  Now, it’s acting like an anchor stuck on a reef and, as the ship tries to pull away, it ends up pulling the bow under water.  Eventually the whole damn ship goes down.  Rather than cut the anchor loose and allow the ship to proceed, the powers that be seem determined to keep the tug of war going ad infinitum.  Like Bruce Springsteen once sang, “No retreat, no surrender.”

The solutions are right there in front of everyone, but they refuse to see them.  The Left refuses to acknowledge that corporate tax rates are way too high and must be reduced; that spending on some level must be trimmed; and while stimulus spending can mitigate severe economic downturns, it is no substitute for real long-term growth in the private sector.  A business-friendly environment will do more in the long run for future prosperity than any government-run program can ever do.

The Right refuses to abandon the idea that spending cuts alone, without addressing the issue of revenues, will never balance any budget, much less one that is $1.4 trillion in the red; that there is no “confidence fairy” that will miraculously appear once they take the reigns of power and dramatically reduce unemployment.  Demand is the key to future growth and, with virtually every economist out there forecasting stubbornly high unemployment through at least 2015, some stimulus spending is needed to prop up the economy until this great engine of capitalism is firing on all cylinders.  Additionally, its fixation with “Obamacare” and the Frank/Dodd Financial Reform law is pathological to say the least.  As far as anybody has been able to tell, neither healthcare nor financial reform has cost the economy a blessed thing, other than a ton of antacid tablets arguing and bickering about it.

As for entitlements, neither side is offering up real workable solutions.  The Left will not talk about any cuts in benefits, means testing or raising the retirement age, even if it actually strengthens the viability of those programs; and the Right’s solution ostensibly comes down to privatization and vouchers, which have been thoroughly rejected by a plurality of voters. 

And then there’s that sacred cow that nobody wants to touch: the military industrial complex.  The Left wants defense spending cuts, unless it means losing valuable jobs (that’s votes in Washington speak) in their districts; the Right is paranoid that even capping military spending would leave us vulnerable to future attacks, as if being able to blow up the world several times over isn’t sufficient enough.  The fact is the Pentagon’s budget rivals most other countries’ total budgets and, at some point, must be trimmed.  It currently receives more than one third of all discretionary spending.  That is simply insane under any circumstances.  The sensible solution would be a ten percent cut each year for the next five years, and then a cap for the foreseeable future.  Good luck seeing that.

The lack of leadership, both on Capital Hill and in the White House, is an embarrassment; the lack of a clear and viable plan of attack that can actually succeed and bring about the solutions that people demand and expect from their elected officials poses the biggest threat to the nation's future and well being.  Quick fixes, base pandering and a reluctance to face reality are what got us into the fix we currently find ourselves in.  Only a unique type of courage that calls for shared sacrifice and a willingness to think long-term will get us out of it.  Unfortunately, such courage is not to be found these days.

There’s a word that perfectly describes the current state of affairs in Washington.  It is not a particularly polite word; in deed, it is quite vulgar.  But, it is, nonetheless, appropriate and, in lieu of any reasonably effective substitute, it will have to suffice.

The word is Clusterfuck.  The military uses a variation of it when one of their operations has gone bad.  They call it SNAFU (Situation Normal, All Fucked Up).  Sometimes they use another term: FUBAR (Fucked Up Beyond All Repair).  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Washington version of a SNAFU and FUBAR.

Bon Appétit!

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