Tuesday, October 11, 2011

We're In This Together

I haven't written a political blog in quite some time. I don't think anyone frequents this place anymore, as its been many years since I updated the site on a regular basis.

I've been very political since my teenage years. I studied government and politics at college in the UK. I fell in love with US politics, and not long thereafter fell in love with an American gal, and moved to live in this great country that has given me so much pride and opportunity.

I love this country so much. I love it's sprawling landscapes, its disparate breadth of culture, its commitment to liberty, and personal responsibility, its optimism, and its enterprise. I love its constitution. I love its legal system and institutions. I love what it actually means to be an American. The spirit of all those immigrants that came here, centuries ago, fleeing persecution and oppressive circumstances, in pursuit of prosperity and freedom... that spirit endures and permeates the present. It makes the United States stronger today just as it did then.

Earlier this year I received my permanent residency. As I've heard many other ex-pats say before me, I feel as much an American now, as I do an Englishman.

I've never felt less political, and less interested in the successes of the respective parties. I'm a liberal. I'm left of center. I'm pretty conservative on economic policy. I'm pretty liberal on social policies. But, I don't see what's going on in the country through the prism of re-election for Obama or defeat of Republicans as I have done in the past.

We're in a global economic crisis. What's going on is so much larger than all the petty political narratives espoused by both the left and right.

There is a vacuum at the heart of our politics, and national discussion. There is just raw anger, on either side. On the right people feel the nation's fundamental values and identity have been torn asunder by Obama. They feel patronized. They feel he doesn't want to be their President. On the left people feel the richest 1% are squeezing the middle and working class further and further, while not being held accountable for the mess they got us into in the first place. All this anger is expressed by Tea Party protestors and Wall Street protestors alike, and its exploited by political pundits, without any positive proposals for meeting these great challenges and building a more prosperous future for everyone.

We are adrift. Our respective political ideologies are so bankrupt of practical solutions, and sound policy objectives. It all gets lost beneath the rabble.

The economic consensus that emerged from the 1980's, and the economic growth inspired by Reaganomics transformed the western world. It transformed it in ways most of us are too young to fully grasp. In some ways it divided us. In some ways it damaged us. But, it provided us with an extraordinary standard of living, and a vibrant marketplace full of booming technological advancements and unshackled innovation and creativity.

We live in a world where as individuals we have a greater say over our own identity, and our place in the world, more so than any generation before us.

We live in a world where we are inextricably connected to people in many different countries. We live in a world where divisive social constructs like institutional racism, misogyny, and oppressive organized thinking diminish the worth and trajectory of individuals less. We live in a world where everything from our ring tones, to our social networking pages, to our clothes, to our cars are an opportunity for us to say something about ourselves. Many consider modernity a spiritual bankrupt wasteland. I see the spirituality and humanity of people invested so significantly in their lives. I don't think true love has ever meant more. It may transcend the conventions of the past, but many of us have heard the abusive stories of our grandfathers and great grandfathers and what family units in the 1950's and 60's often amounted to in reality compared to the idyllic pretense.

We are more emotionally literate, expressive, unique, and capable. We have greater access to information than ever before.

Before the 1980's the way in which we discussed economic systems was very different to today. The political consensus involved a mixed economy, with much higher levels of taxation, and more extensive regulations. It involved a world where the individual mattered less.

In our time, Republicans and Democrats alike have subscribed to an economic consensus, and save for a fortuitous passage in the 1990's (to the credit of both parties) we have never come to grips with two things. Excessive government debt, and a recognition that too little taxation, and too little regulation allows for the engine of free market economic growth to derail, and turn a boom into a bust.

While too much taxation and too much regulation stagnates, not only our economy, but the very vibrancy of our potential as individuals, too little allows for economic anarchy and a financial sector that resembles a lawless and dangerous wild west.

Our problem now is sovereign debt all over the world. A significant amount of that sovereign debt has nothing to do with the excesses of wall street, financial markets, or deregulation. It's about corrupt governments and social programs, well intentioned, that cannot be paid for.

So we can course correct. So we can confront the challenges in Greece, Ireland, and many other European countries that are destabilizing the economy. So we can put rules in place to prevent the markets making the same mistakes again and governments making the same mistakes again.

So we can cut government spending in the United States without suggesting its a painless process. Cutting government spending in large measure in the short term contracts economic growth. That is the reality.

So we can cut defense spending. So we can reform social security. So we can set a much more aggressive target for spending cuts over a period of 6-10 years.

And, so we can marginally raise income taxes on people who earn over a million dollars to increase government revenues, while incorporating the right tax incentives and credits to ensure it doesn't discourage small businesses from hiring.

We cannot compete with the labor costs in developing countries. We cannot legislate protectionism to prevent companies shipping jobs overseas.

We have to innovate. We have to create new thriving products and services. We have to address our trade deficit.

We have to recognize that life is extremely hard right now for families all over the country. We have to recognize that the economic crisis is a human tragedy, first and foremost.

We have to recognize that there is nothing wrong with being successful. There is nothing wrong with being a millionaire or a billionaire. An individuals pursuit of success for his or herself is the nature of our economic system.

The alternative is a prohibitive marketplace suffocated by a state that eventually can't afford the social justice it tries to implement anyway. Billionaires and millionaires are amongst those who will be relied upon by us all to turn this economy around, like it or not. We need them to invest. We need them to take chances.

Rather than castigate the rich, or brand angry protestors as socialists, why not take a different approach?

Obama's greatest failing, in my opinion, has been the manner in which he's patronized the tea party, and antagonized the business community.

By comparison, the right is so convinced their political opponents are dedicated to destroying America that their punditry spends all of their time manufacturing cynical conspiracies with a mild strain of McCarthyism.

Why not try and understand each other within a framework. A mutual understanding and a basic consensus is attainable.

Why not consider the other side? Why not step into their shoes? Why not respect those that we disagree with while being strong in our own positions? Why not stop feeling threatened by all of these tangential political narratives? Why not really try to confront reality and its challenges as THE priority?

It's the economy stupid.

Let's start the journey of making it better.

And, the journey alone, if we can set a course of improvement, can be a path that lifts us up.

Why wouldn't we? We're in this together - left, right, rich, poor, Republican and Liberal alike.

If we can address the sovereign debt crisis, pass stronger regulations, and do so in a comprehensive fashion, fundamentally acknowledging both sides, this nation can thrive.

Developing nations develop. Their living standards improve. Their living wage gets larger. Their people gain greater freedoms and demand more rights. Developing nations eventually develop and the playing field will level.

In the interim America can address its issues, learn from its mistakes, as the world addresses its issues, and with greater unity, and a commitment to solutions and not partisanship... we can... once again... grow.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Real Beginning Of The Obama Era?


There has been something very different about President Obama since the turn of the year. His first year in office has been grueling, and he has confronted many insurmountable obstacles, but finally he seems to have gathered his stride and recognized the importance of leadership and action.

He is decisive, determined, and sure of the importance of the healthcare bill to the nation's future. He is leading the charge to enact dramatic changes into law. You only have to look at the forces aligned against this bill to know the impact this will have on people's lives. It's as simple as this fact... never again will a health insurance company be able to deny you coverage based on a pre-existing condition.

Healthcare has compromised all of Obama's political capital that he had earned in 2008. It was the right bill at the wrong time, in my opinion. But, his approach since January has been much more effective and it is paving the way for a tremendous accomplishment in his first term in office from a legislative perspective that, for better or for worse, will define his Presidency.

He sincerely reached out to Republicans at the Healthcare summit in pursuit of compromise. In doing so he emboldened his political opponents and provided them with an excellent opportunity to offer their alternative ideas. He lost a political battle by doing so, but he laid the groundwork for winning the war. What Obama established is that no matter what he tried, compromise was not possible. In doing so he created the context within which he could feasibly disregard Republican opposition and focus on getting the bill passed with Democrats with all of the requisite determination.

Governance, like life, is about getting things done. It's about making a difference and improving people's lives. Governance IS dirty, getting votes is a nasty business. It always is, in any democratic system across the globe, rife with persuasion, intimidation, and back room deals. The great legislators are the greatest leaders. Obama seems to have finally figured this out.

After everything that has been committed to healthcare, and the political disaster it has been for the Administration, it basically comes down to this: Does the Administration believe healthcare reform will improve people's lives? Does the Administration believe something must be done, and the status quo is untenable? If so, then politically they only have one option... get her done. Get her done and twist every arm, make the deals, fly Dennis Kucinich on air force one, and sign that bill into law. It will be a remarkable foundation from which Obama can go into 2010 along with the Democratic party and try to repair the damage that was done in 2009. In addition, its the basis upon which, emboldened by action and accomplishment, the Democratic congress has many months before November to do so much more.

Politically, healthcare will be a side issue in 2012 for Obama, no matter how much right wing commentators might like to believe otherwise. The only thing that really matters to Obama's political well being is the progress of the economy and reducing the deficit and national debt. Right now, in terms of electioneering there is no one of the Republican side who is even close to competing with the President in 2012.

Like many excellent President's before him, Clinton, Reagan, etc, after a shakey start, Obama, finally, is growing into being a leader. The short term knocks and dips in public approval are of less concern to him than making a positive difference in people's lives. When people look back on the Obama Presidency, I believe that many will consider that this legislative success is when the actual "Obama era" began.