Choosing Not to Choose Is Choosing Not to Lead

October 9, 2008

Like the rest of the country, I have no doubt that my guy won Tuesday’s debate with John McCain.  Like David Broder, however, I was terribly disappointed with the lack of real answers from either candidate:

John McCain and Barack Obama have been asked twice — once in the Mississippi debate and again on Tuesday night — what their priorities would be. McCain flat-out refused to choose, arguing that the United States can do it all. Obama mentioned energy, health care and education, but did not acknowledge that he might have to choose among them.

Similarly, they declined to spell out what sacrifices they might have to ask Americans to make, beyond moderating their energy use or easing their demands for Washington-financed projects.

It was a stunning rejection of reality.

I keep telling myself that Obama is currently in the hands of the “professionals” who run campaigns for a living, and that those folks are convinced we’re ahead and don’t want to do anything rash.  But this guy is going to disappoint me monumentally if he doesn’t get brutally honest with the American people in his first 100 days, and tell us that we are going to have to make some sacrifices.  Again, Broder:

To govern is to choose, and next year, the trade-offs will be much tougher than usual because of the mess the Bush administration is leaving behind. At a moment when few Americans can muster much confidence in the leaders in Congress or the White House, McCain and Obama have used two of their three debates — three hours when they had the attention of millions of voters — to conceal more than they revealed about their agendas.



Smells Like Anything But Teen Spirit

September 26, 2008

I was nursing a bum knee on the couch through most of the day.  Through most of the day and, I might add, through a charmingly light, pain-pill-induced mist  (boy, can I see why the rich and intermittently employed hoard these babies).  As a result, I was witness to the full day of all-out BAILOUT coverage from (seemingly) every media outlet imaginable.  Appearing before me was an endless assortment of bloggers, talking heads, elected officials, and surrogates for both Presidential candidates (apparently, the McCain surrogates didn’t get his “suspension” memo).

The image that sticks is one of a continuous parade comprised of a single marching band precisely big enough to circle a city block, with no blank spots.  They just go round and round.  Every few minutes, you see the same people again.  And they are playing, over and over, the same song.  It’s hard to play a song with almost all percussion instruments and the occasional horn–the subtlty of woodwinds being absurdly out of the question.   But it *is* a song, nonetheless, and we’ve heard it before.  Why, it’s by Kurt Cobain, late of Nirvana  and unfortunately for us all, late of the planet.  No wonder I had momentary suicidal impulses all day–thought it was the pills.   Emphasis mine to show how I’d roll with it on a Karaoke stage:

I’m a liar, AND I’M FAMOUS

Here we are now, ENTERTAIN us

I feel stupid, AND CONTAGIOUS

Here we are now, ENTERTAIN US……

In a nod to multi-culturalism, Cobain goes on to discuss a libido, an albino, a mulatto, and a mosquito.  While I’m sure all of these and more were on display on Fox today, that may have been the mist talking, and none of them is critical to my point.

Which is, mainly this.  Our economy may or may not be in a phase of barely pre-Chernobyl meltdown.  But if it is, our Congressional leaders are playing out “The Pepsi Syndrome” skit from Saturday Night LIve in the 70s.  All they really want to know is who committed the fateful spill of pepsi on the control panel key board, setting of an unexpected and disastrous chain of events.  While they argue, the reactor melts down.

Whether or not our economy is imploding, our political system certainly is.  We face undoubtedly the worst crisis that most of us has lived through.  And yet, a substantial majority of Americans believes that the whole ruckus pertains to protecting some rich guys on Wall Street. 

Why?  Because our voters are woefully uninformed and underserved by our echo-chamber, sound-bite media.  Because nobody in this devilishly complex situation is demonstrating the leadership skills–or balls– to explain the crisis to us in a way that is direct, meaningful to our families, and devoid of politics.  (President Bush got astonishingly close last night, far better than Paulson or any of the candidates has done).    And perhaps most importantly, we are at this us/them impasse  because the American people are so fed up with their leadership at all federal levels that their default reaction to *any* grand proposal is that they’re about to get rolled again.  Assume defensive crouch.

One of two things will break this vicious cycle of hapless hopelessness.  The economy really may melt down.  There’s nothing to bring people together like having 70% of the population standing in soup lines, as was the case in 1930.  Maybe that’s too extreme an analog, Senator Shelby, but go ahead and play chicken.  If you understand the economy that well, sell me a deep-in-the-money call on your stock portfolio.  I’ve been worried for a while now, so I have a little extra lquidity.  Channeling  HAL from 2001, A Space Odyssey:  “would you like to play a game, Senator?”

Or, a once-in-a lifetime leader steps up and becomes the nation’s teacher-, preacher-, handholder-, and scolder-in-chief.  George Bush Sr. said in 1992 that “the American way of life is non-negotiable.”  Barack Obmama is my guy, and I hope that he’s the one to say, “sorry folks, the era of American entitlement and exceptionalism is over.  It actually ended in 2001; we just couldn’t accept it.”  I truly hope he’s the one, and something like this might be a good start.  Because if he’s not, I’m nearly damned good and ready to follow the guy or gal who is.  Tom Friedman put it perfectly over the weekend:

But what could (McCain and Obama) say that would give you confidence that they could lead us out of this rut?   My test is simple: Which guy can tell people what they don’t want to hear — especially his own base….

Those are the kind of words that would get my attention. The last president who challenged his base was Bill Clinton, when he reformed welfare and created a budget surplus with a fair and equitable tax program. George W. Bush never once — not one time — challenged Americans to do anything hard, let alone great. The next president is not going to have that luxury. He will have to ask everyone to do something hard — and I want to know now who is up to that task.

The key word in that last sentence, by the way, is the one in italics.






Say of the Day: Tom Friedman in the NYT

September 21, 2008

Friedman points to the fact which remains simultaneously verboten in this campaign and as plain as the nose on your face:  this President will be forced call on Americans to sacrifice.

George W. Bush never once — not one time — challenged Americans to do anything hard, let alone great. The next president is not going to have that luxury. He will have to ask everyone to do something hard — and I want to know now who is up to that task.