Monthly Archives: June 2011
There were a lot of headlines this week from which to choose the subject of this week’s essay. A continuing war in Libya that is escalating in cost; a secret war in Yemen involving US forces; the US economy nearing free fall; Presidential hopefuls who have declared themselves to be “in;” those who have declared themselves to be “out;” and those who said they were “out” but who really mean that they’re “in.”
As compelling as those topics are, I found myself nearly obsessed with the Twitter scandal of the Congressman from New York City, Anthony Weiner. Please let me explain. This is not about the sordid details of the transgression, once denied but now admitted. Many, but certainly not all, of the facts are now in evidence. This is not intended to be a psychological analysis of what drove him to his actions. I will leave that to the long discussions he will have with his analyst.
Rather, this is intended to be a discussion of what is relevant to the conversation we are having about the future of our Republic. Every day, we slide deeper and deeper into debt to nations that do not have our best interests at heart. Every day, we make financial gifts to unstable foreign governments. We write checks against borrowed money. Every day, we are undermining long standing relationships and alliances with nations who have been our only friend in regions of great turmoil. Every day, we add fuel to the fires of the Arab Spring cum Summer that will have outcomes in the transference of power that, once again, do not have the best interests of the United States in mind, much less that of Israel.
Gas prices hovering near $4 per gallon; food prices skyrocketing; engagement in 3 military conflicts that snatch the treasures of our youth; the US Dollar depreciating against all currencies, including the Yen! (One would think the one country we should have an advantage against is one whose industry has been ravaged by tsunami and earthquake and radiation.) Home mortgages underwater in record numbers; State and municipal budgets in shambles; the 2011 Federal budget the product of a continuing resolution and the 2012 budget not yet proposed by the President.
There is a lot on our plate. And what dominated the conversation in Washington? A photograph did. A self-portrait, if you will, of the member of a Member of Congress, and the deceitful behavior that followed. While Rome burned, Congressman Weiner was chatting it up with hotties across the country whom, supposedly, he had never met, exchanging sexual pleasantries as if they were his with his wife. His wife. Did I mention that he has a wife?
So, now Congressman Weiner joins a long line of recent reprobates from government: Elliot Spitzer, Bill Clinton, John Edwards, and Wilbur Mills to name a few. I could go far back in time to other notables but these will suffice.
Call me a Pollyanna but I really do love the Jimmy Stewart/Frank Capra classic movie, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” It premiered in 1939 and remains quite relevant to contemporary times. Mr. Smith was tempted by fame, fortune and femme fatales but managed to cling to the roots of what made him the man that he was.
Ultimately, the real Mr. Smith prevailed. It was a happy ending. I hold out less confidence for the current crop of long term incumbents in Washington. The problem is this: I cannot trust them: not with my finances; not with my liberty; and, certainly not with daughters!
I am astounded that so many people remain un-offended by Congressman Weiner’s actions. Imagine if it were your daughter on the receiving end of the photo texts or intimate telephone chats. Imagine if it were your daughter were an intern in the Clinton White House. I, for one, cannot separate public performance from personal behavior. They are linked.
There was a time when serving as an intern or page was nothing but prestigious. Now, it is tainted with scandal by self-serving narcissists who think that government is them. We are the government and we deserve better. I want to hold my Congressman in high esteem. I want them to behave in the best possible manner. I want them to be a reflection of a society that I believe is good, true and moral.
Jerry Springer Nation has arrived in Washington. If they won’t resign on their own, let’s do it the old fashioned way. Vote the bums out.
“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” These are the words of the late tennis star and humanitarian, Arthur Ashe. I thought them apropos of the season for a number of reasons. It is, after all, graduation season. The colleges are out already and my son graduates high school today. Between myself, my wife and children, my family has a lot of experience with a lot of graduations and these words could seem quite useful to new graduates embarking upon the next phase of their lives. In fact, I wish someone had said them to me when I graduated high school in 1973.
We often tell our graduates that they must find their inner muse and pursue their passion. That’s pretty hard to do when the sum total of life experience is so small. I recently heard some good advice from an unlikely source in the NY Times: go find something that is broken, something that irks you and fix it. Your passion will find you. This is the best advice I’ve read in The Times in a long while.
There are few perfect moments in life when everything comes together in harmonious junction and the way forward lies clear and unambiguous. We usually cannot afford to wait for those precious moments lest we become paralyzed in our action. Most times, we are forced to cast our net into the deep and hope for the best. This is where faith meets opportunity.
And opportunity, or more accurately, the lack of it, brings me to the meat of this essay. The economy is in shambles and Congress and the Administration seem content to extract sound bytes and posture to create the most embarrassing voting records for the 2012 election cycle rather than confront the dilemma that is at our doorstep in 2011. Our dismal economy is robbing the Class of 2011 of its opportunity, just as it did for the Class of 2010 and 2009.
Our recent graduates are piling up along the shoreline waiting for the previous wave of graduates to advance inshore. Their ranks are being decimated of hope for the future with each pressing wave. College grads with freshly minted degrees are serving lattes at the local Starbucks and eating ramen noodles with little hope of paying down their college loans let alone following their muse. And, with each passing month, they are losing more hope that their future will bring a meaningful opportunity.
I have recently returned from a business trip to Asia. The hotels are full; the restaurants are full; the factories are full. The future for Asia seems incandescent. I know what hope and opportunity look like. I just saw it and I remember when that hope was here in America. Hope has become the principal US export. Long gone are growth rates in excess of 5%. We are mired in something less than 2%. And that is hardly enough growth to employ our latest graduates no less rehire any of our lost workforce that now numbers 13.6 million people.
You have read the dismal figures on the US economy this week. Unemployment up; factories down. In Washington, the monotonous political beat goes on. Political fundraising and K Street activity thrive unabated. They are fighting over the morsels on the floor when the real meat is on the table.
Start where you are. We know the score. Congressional policies that have pandered to special interests for the sake of campaign contributions has led to overly complex and heavily tailored tax breaks that have worked against our national best interests. We know this and with courageous leadership, we can remediate the situation. But the outlook for courageous leadership is bleak from most quadrants.
Use what you have. The United States is not without clout. Ours is still the largest and most creative economy in the world. Our currency is still the default currency. Our military is without a close second. We can project power anywhere in the world without significant opposition. Lead, damn it, lead. Lead, follow or get out of the way.
Do what you can. We may not be able to fix everything at once but surely we must be able to agree to fix something that is broken: the budget, the economy; long term taxation; capital investment; foreign policy, to name a few. Fix these and our passion will find us.
We are not what we once were, said Ulysses, but we are what we are: Strong in will; to find, to seek, to strive and not to yield. I would prefer that this great republic go down swinging having dared mighty things than to succumb to that gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat. And Washington, led by either party, is basking in twilight.