Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Where We Go from Here

One of the most profoundly insightful statements made during the 2008 Republican presidential primary debates was, in my humble opinion, made by former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. One of the questions posed of the Republican candidates centered on the war front in Iraq and whether the US should ever have become involved, and the usual "blame game" and "finger-pointing" soon took over the discussion. When it came to be Mr. Huckabee's turn to speak, he said there was no point in going backward to determine who erred and what mistakes were made. The whole point, he said, is that "this is where we are" and this is the reality we must deal with. Mr. Huckabee essentially said it is up to genuine leaders to determine where we go from that point, for the solutions are not behind us; they are ahead of us and must come from within the present reality.

Though I cannot say I was too high on Mr. Huckabee at the time, it occurs to me during this current wrangling about the S&P credit rating downgrade that this is the wisdom, insight, and sense of leadership sorely lacking in Washington right now - actually across the country, judging by the feedback from some of the many news articles in which Democrats are blaming the Tea Party for the whole mess, Republicans are blaming the Democrats ... and NO ONE is stepping up to the plate, including our president. Everyone is reflecting on what has happened, and very few are thinking about what must happen from this point.

Common wisdom insists we cannot afford to be ignorant of history lest we are "doomed to repeat it", yet we must also recognize that the only way we can change the present reality is by the forward steps we take from within that reality. We must be mindful of the missteps made that got us where we are and learn from the many mistakes that helped to bring us to this point, of course, but it is futile to "blame" any one person or political party. The reality is: here we are; and the question is: where do we go from here? Backward into a fruitless past? Forward into a future with a common plan? Or hopelessly stuck in the present, spinning our wheels, refusing to take responsibility, and failing to realize EVERYONE from top to bottom has had a hand in the current reality. In some form or fashion every American adult can - and must - claim ownership of where we are. Only then can we take concrete steps into the future.

To say we are all "in this together" seems hopelessly cheesy and not conducive to forward thinking but before we can speak of "shared sacrifice", we must first share responsibility. Only then can we move forward. Only then will we be able to call upon all American citizens to put their best foot forward, recognize we are not "led by" but "represented in" Washington by fellow citizens whom we chose for ourselves, and offer through our representatives what we are willing to do based not on what mistakes were made in the past by the "other" guy or "other" party but based entirely on what we are willing to endure moving forward. S&P's total analysis of our credit downgrade (and possible further downgrade in the near future) considered, in part, our lack of willingness to work together cooperatively. Sadly, however, S&P can clearly see that the mood of the nation even now is not so willing to cooperate or endure any sacrifice.

We want what we want, we want what we believe we have a "right" to, and we want what the law says we are "entitled" to. That the government had to borrow $1.3 trillion to finance nearly a third of the total federal budget is, in the minds of many, "not my problem. I was promised ____, and I will settle for no less than _____." There is no sympathy among the American populace that the US government, which is "us", with a total cumulative debt in excess of $14 trillion simply cannot deliver on promises made in the past. "It is the Congress' fault, so it is the Congress' problem", we say. So S&P and other credit agencies can clearly see that the people of the United States are a poor credit risk. How's that for reality?

Like the family budget that is getting squeezed in today's economy, the US government (that is, "we the people") must first realize that unlimited borrowing or doubling down (spending even more) is not sustainable action. Priorities will have to be determined according to need and necessity, not entitlement. Every American citizen will have to realize we are owed nothing from the federal government outside of what is clearly spelled out in the US Constitution. Those who can do without must be prepared to do so while those who are disabled or otherwise cannot do for themselves must not live in fear of falling through the cracks.

With the election season coming up, voters must be very careful to wade through the mindless platitudes, empty rhetoric, and pointless finger-pointing that have been the mark of American electoral politics, and demand of all political candidates a clear vision of the future with concrete steps into that vision. We do not need to be told what has already happened because we have already endured the past, and we do not need to be told what candidates will "undo" or "not do". If these candidates want to be leaders and want to be entrusted with a position of leadership, they must be required to act like leaders and not followers of any partisan mob.

Above all else, voters must come to realize we are not electing a "messiah". No single candidate will have all the answers, but what can be clear to us is that if a candidate spends most or all of his or her time campaigning on the faults of other candidates or officeholders, it is probably a sure bet that candidate has no vision of the future but would actually fit right in to the status quo. Clearly, this is not what the future requires because "status quo" has no future. We must listen carefully to what will be put forth in the coming months with the sure and certain knowledge that a simple stroke of a pen or a silver bullet or a magic pill will not solve our problems. Our course of action must be led by wisdom, earnest reflection, and faith in something great than ourselves.

If your candidate of choice can be defined by a cheesy bumper-sticker slogan (such as "change you can believe in" or "cut, cap, and balance"), it is probably a sure bet your candidate does not have much more to say than that. The proof is in the past.

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