I don’t remember my mother saying this, but I know it’s a generic mom comment: “You’re a unique snowflake.” Don’t be alarmed my mother said equally encouraging things to convince me of my specialness. Likewise, I suggest that President Obama begin looking at his agenda as unique snowflakes. No two issues are alike. No two issues should be treated similarly. Just like my mother wouldn’t have dreamed of treating my brother and I the same, the economy and healthcare cannot be given the same curfew or managed alike.
Along the same lines this week, KCRW’s Left, Right and Center podcast wondered aloud whether President Obama was too ambitious to attempt to 3-4 major issues this early on in his presidency. It didn’t stop there. The questions continued. Is it time for urgency? Should we panic? The economy is still slow and as soon as we get it back in shape (assuming we do); it will be right around the time the cost of the baby boomers will hit Social Security and Medicare.
The response on the show seemed to point toward trimming entitlements and raising taxes. But how will it happen? Will it happen within the next 5 years? Will China decide when a change happens?
Obviously we need to get a handle on our fiscal policy and decide how to move forward. The more I’ve been listening and reading lately, the more it seems that the economic and national debt issues facing the government are becoming more and more pressing every day. There are many decisions to be made and responsible plan needs to be implemented. The co-hosts of LR&C also implicated Goldman Sachs and others like them in both the cause of the crisis and an obstacle to the solution. They noted (with some spite) that the Secretaries of the Treasury under Clinton and Bush were both Goldman Sachs executives. Additionally, many of these banks are continuing the process of complicating our policy while continuing “excessive” bonuses. In the interest of full disclosure, the bonuses have never really bothered me and I don’t actually think they are evidence of the firm’s overall evil. I will concede that it makes you wonder if it’s purely ideological or if there’s an ethical/moral component.
Regardless of our politician’s ideological differences and our country’s differing moral systems, our economic and fiscal policy is quickly becoming the major issue of our time. I’m not about to claim to have all the answers. I can’t even claim to know where to start (that’s why I’m in law school). I know it’s important and I know we need to start now and look ahead, way ahead. Luckily, I think we have a President who has the ability and timing to address our short term needs and convince Congress to plan for the future. I’m not sure we’re all going to agree on how to do it, though I doubt he’s really going to turn out to be a Socialist.
The point is, we need to address the economy now; we need to accept necessary sacrifices however they come, and we need to prepare for the future. This may not be popular. It might not be easy to govern while undertaking this strategy. It might not be possible to address all our needs immediately and prioritizing is in the job description. Today, Senator Evan Bayh resigned apparently unable or unmotivated to address these daunting challenges. President Obama says that he’s prepared to address the economy and make the tough choices. I believe him. Yet, I recognize that there’s a growing minority who are organizing to stop him progress because of ideological differences. This is justified. With the 2010 election approaching, we’ll get a better idea which types of politician and what messages are winning.
My fear is that we elect President Obama but handcuff his ability to do anything. Or more broadly, we become so afraid of what any politician might do that we won’t allow any politician to do anything substantive. That’s a major problem. One of the reasons our politicians have so much trouble addressing long-range economic issues is our system requires much consensus. That’s a good thing. But as the base of each political party moves farther apart toward the “poles,” it becomes less likely that any politician will be able to implement any major solution. Let’s be honest. In the next few years, Republicans and Democrats are not going to agree on major changes to our economy or fiscal policy. They inherently disagree on some major premises of the government’s role and as candidates become more polarizing, it becomes less likely the American people can expect a cohesive solution.
My intention is two-fold. First, I want to highlight the importance and urgency of today’s economic issues. Second, I’m trying to get voters to see that just as President Obama cannot treat every issue the same, neither can we. We need to be more flexible and open-minded over the next 1, 3, 7, 10 years in trying to determine an amenable and stable solution. The only way our politicians will feel comfortable embracing new ideas (and perhaps each other) is if voters are open to it too. Our economic future is too valuable to threaten with old-fashioned politics and one-size-fits-all ideas.