Category Archives: Essay
The news came across my car radio while listening to a sports talk show in New York City. Something awful had happened at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. There was the first blast, then another. The unnerving pattern of twin explosions, eerily reminiscent of the aircraft that struck the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, left little to the imagination. The chances of this being a random event seemed immediately implausible. America had been terrorized once again in the most public of ways on a stage as big as the world itself.
Immediately you do the accounting. Is my family safe? Did anyone have reason to be in Boston this afternoon? It was impossible to know how many people I may have known who were involved in running or support of the marathon. Where I live it is simply too big an event to ignore. When out-of-towners ask me where I live in relation to Boston, I tell them that I live to the West about 26 miles, 385 yards. People immediately make the connection.
I vividly recall assembling my children on September 11, 2001, and describing for them how their lives were going to change. Life in America was to be forever altered. They were barely adolescents then. What could my statement have meant to them having not yet known the personal pain of such loss? Or the implications to our security and liberty that were sure to follow. It was my duty to ease into that explanation and prepare them for an adulthood that would all too often ooze tragedy.
Terrorism is personal to me, especially 9/11. I used to work in the E-Ring of the Pentagon; I entertained in the Windows of the World atop the World Trade Center. Several of my classmates were New York denizens. Four of them worked in the impact zone. Two of them were away from the city as their buildings were hit; and two never made it out. These were the stories I would pass along my children and their children. This was now part of my life narrative.
The Boston Marathon bombing was immediately different. Nearly 12 years after 911, it was my children who first contacted me to see if I was accounted for rather than the other way around. And when quizzed, it turned out that they had fewer degrees of separation with their friends and colleagues than did I. Their friends were all around that scene of carnage. It became immediately personal to them. And urgent.
That’s when it hit me. No longer could I shelter my children from the cold reality of life. No longer could I gently explain what was happening around them in a world that all too frequently gets turned upside down. No longer could I protect their innocence. It had been snatched from them. And they turned their protection towards me to provide shelter from the shock of the horrific situation.
So now, in this new social reality in a post-911 context, my children are now citizens of the World of Terror. They have their own recollections of simpler, less violent times. They have their own images of once sacred spaces forever marred by the incomprehensible reality of a world at war with itself.
It is an unfortunate rite of passage in this new world. Sadder still is the thought that my kids will shelter the next generation of Americans who will inevitably need sheltering when the next act of terror touches their lives. If the Boston Marathon bombing settles one thing it is this: however quiescent current events might become, there will be another act of terror that will require explanation and tenderness.
So, for me, the baton has been passed to my children. Now having borne witness to their own incomprehensible nightmare, having made the numerous connections to people within their ever expanding number of acquaintances, they are fully adult. Perhaps it is their rightful turn to begin to bear the burden of the weight that life presses down upon our shoulders. I wish I could shelter them from that awful burden but I fear they will need to develop that strength sooner rather than later. This problem will likely be with us long after I leave this earth.
Over time, we will prevail. We will rise again. Life will regain a sense of normalcy. But the bar of normalcy has been raised. Like a balloon that has been stretched, it never regains its original shape. It is forever deformed.
We ARE Boston Strong.
Who doesn’t go on vacation with an anticipation of blissfully hiding from the headlines for a week or so? And so it was my expectation as we headed out on a Saturday morning that the next newspaper I held in my hands would be to light a fire on the beach. Only on that particular Saturday Paul Ryan was picked to be Mitt Romney’s Vice Presidential running mate. It has been difficult to hide my head in the sand this week but I have tried to go “pundit-less” so that I could accurately capture my thoughts about the selection of Paul Ryan.
I am excited by this pick for a number of reasons. It has excited Mitt Romney. He seems a bit like the boy who is so excited about tomorrow that he can’t go to sleep. There is an excitement in the ranks of Republicans, too, as the Romney campaign appears to have picked up a conservative philosophical tone. Finally, there is both trepidation and exhilaration on the part of the Democrats that describes their uncertainty over the selection of Ryan as a conservative architect of the Republican budget. Some can’t wait to sink their teeth into him and others are shrinking from the inevitable debate with Joe Biden. You think the Olympics were a highly watched event? Wait till the hype for this: “Biden-Ryan in Kentucky: Dropping the Anvil in Danville.”
There has been so much ideological debate this campaign season about who is the purest of the pure when it comes to conservatism. Could any candidate survive that dissection and also win a nomination? No candidate with a voting record could demonstrate that purity without contradiction. Stalwart that he is portrayed to be, even Paul Ryan would fail to turn the litmus paper red every time.
When last I looked there were over four hundred 2012 Presidential hopefuls registered with the Federal Elections Commission. Collectively we have had exposure to only a dozen or two. We never came to know very many and I am certain there were fine people among them with great plans but no traction. So now it has come down to these two Republicans, Romney and Ryan, to be pitted against the incumbent Democrats President Obama and Vice President Biden.
It is a mega-match up. Given the woodpile of Presidential timber from which to choose, this is the best set piece of an ideological battle for which we could hope. On one hand, the Obama-Biden ticket promises more of the same wealth redistribution approach to government. Steady as she goes. Without a course, any wind will take you there.
The Romney-Ryan ticket promises something else. We know the mantra: smaller, less intrusive government with fiscal responsibility. The ticket promises us a better economic plan to get us back on track but it has to be so much more than that. It must truly begin to reflect the nature of the conservative/tea party rebellion that we have witnessed for the last three years. Without it, the economy will falter and we will be pointing fingers at Party Politics, the Political Class and the Establishment as the usual suspects.
Picture the Ship of State as an aircraft carrier. It is a mighty and powerful behemoth with tremendous momentum. If the Captain wants to stop the ship he can call all engines full astern. Nothing will happen for a painfully long time. But the Captain will anticipate that and have faith that physics will prevail and the intended consequence will ensue. In the meantime it is all about the leadership to set the stage for patience for the physics take hold. That same Captain could stop the ship with more rapid effect by running aground but with deleterious consequences. Speed of execution is less important than certainty of outcome.
Extreme times call for extreme measures and require extreme explanations and consensus building. Not the kind of consensus that delivers merely the lowest common denominator but the consensus that results from an intelligent conversation, with urgency, which improves the decision because people share the vision of what is possible. This will require communication above and around and through Congress directly to the American people who have so much at stake.
And make no mistake about it, true reform in Congress is going to be extremely difficult. No one has been successful in nearly 20 years and the stakes have changed remarkably. Every President gets one good shot at making their mark, of navigating their way to a destination. Course and speed affected by tide, set and weather. This is a true crossroads in American history and the Romney-Ryan ticket must have the guts to see it through.
This is where Paul Ryan can use his Roadmap for America to best advantage. Of the 435 members of the House, who had a better articulated vision for the sustainable future of America than he? Yet I don’t suppose even he thought that his proposal would sail through without debate and amendment. What he started two years ago was a dialogue, perhaps a monologue, with the American people. It was they who began to see the intelligence of looking under every rock and having a plan to do something about the consequences of the fiscal realities that were staring us in the face if we would only open our eyes.
So I am quite happy that this battle is drawn. I am pleased that there are two distinct options this November. The course to port leads us closer to rocks and shoals with no means of egress. The path to starboard, even if it is not hard right, offers us hope to lead us out to deeper waters to allow us to have grown up conversations about our great republic.
The choice is less about Republican versus Democrat or right versus left. It is about leading America in ways it wishes to be led and knowing how to execute a vision. The time between now and November must be used for building the vision in real terms so that Americans will look forward to the journey. No more hope and change on either side, please, just the facts.
Captain, let’s turn this ship of state around. “Helmsman, come starboard to course 180 degrees!”
I have been involved in change activities for many years and find most people are moved to change for one of two reasons. Sometimes people move towards gain. There is a promise of something better that compels them to overcome the inertia of the status quo. Other times, they are moving away from pain. The thought of staying in one place is overwhelmed by the thought that something, anything, must be better than what is before them.
Recently I had the chance to tour the Chinatown Heritage Center and explore what that experience was like for tens of thousands of Chinese immigrants, and other nationalities including Hindi and Malay, in the 19th and 20th centuries. These were Coolies, a term derived from dialectic Chinese meaning hard labor. And hard labor was what they found once arriving in their promised land of Nanyang. And like most immigrants, they hoped to work hard, save some money to send to relatives and someday return to their homeland. They were fleeing oppression, lack of hope and despair. They were fleeing to move away from pain. But pain is what they found in their new land as well as all the trappings that burgeoning cities offer: organized crime, prostitution and disease, addiction to drugs and to gambling.
Nanyang is modern day Singapore. Coolies went in many directions to move away from pain. The Heritage Center tour reminded me of another similar experience I had at the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. There, the stories of German Jews and Italian Catholics resonated in similar tones to those of Singapore. The Pain/Gain pendulum swung yet again as tens of millions of immigrants came through Ellis Island alone. They were coming, against all odds, to seek a better life. They, like their Chinese counterparts on the other side of the world, were moving away from the pain of their past lives, ready to take on the hardships that this transition would demand. And they, like those in Nanyang, would toil in unfavorable and unthinkable hardship, be exposed to the corruptions of an unremitting society and do their best to make it in a new world.
Receptivity to hard labor-driven mass immigration has changed over generations. The Industrial Revolution demanded large numbers of people to fill the mills and factories; to build the cities; to build the railroads and dams; and to work the fields. Strong backs were valued more than strong minds. Those first generation immigrants figuratively laid their bodies in a human bridge to pave the way for their next generations to have a better life, however slightly better it might be.
The immigrant of the 19th century generally did not move towards gain; they were moving away from pain. Circumstances have changed considerably in the 21st century in the Western world. The demand for mass quantities of unskilled labor in America and the West has all but vanished.
Immigrants, especially in America, stopped moving away from pain and began moving towards gain. Since 1965, 85% of legal immigration in America has been of the unskilled variety as chain immigration offset skills-based considerations. Life immediately looked to be better in America than in their homeland and the exodus has not abated. Legal chain immigration of the unskilled is matched by the illegal masses that cross our border.
What gets squeezed in this is the legitimate need for legal immigrants, those who can contribute immediately to our economy. Many of those immigrants are already here, enrolled and graduating from the many world class educational institutions that abound in this country. This stifles the economic growth that might otherwise be created by the talented individuals who we send back to create and innovate on behalf of our international competitors instead of on our behalf.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Here is a good news story on immigration. No, make that a great news story. I just attended a Hindu wedding of the first son of a colleague of mine who emigrated in the early 1980’s from Mumbai with $14 in his pocket intent upon moving towards gain. He arrived with an education and was enveloped in a warm crowd of fellow immigrants who understood that the road to the American Dream was paved with hard work, discipline, perseverance and a solid grasp of the English language. He and his wife became US citizens. They raised two fine children who have earned science degrees at fine institutions of higher education. Those boys straddle two cultures but are proud and thankful participants in The Dream. The wedding could not have been more enjoyable as 350 people celebrated not only the happiness of the couple but the arrival of the parents who raised them to succeed in America. For The Dream to be successful, it has to have proper amounts of push from society and pull from family and friends.
So how do we respect the unstoppable march of immigrants moving away from pain while opening our doors to those who are moving towards gain? And further, how does America attract the correct people to seek that gain? The answer lies with immigration reform. Not every immigrant needs to become a citizen but everyone needs to be here legally, even if it on a temporary or seasonal basis. Those who can contribute should go to the head of the line.
Revitalizing the American economy is the best way to provide opportunity for all. America’s best days must lie ahead of her, not behind her.