Friday, October 31, 2008

Taking a Moment to Be Thankful

Yesterday, I stood in line today for 45 minutes to cast my vote for President of the United States.

I had some time to think while I was waiting and a few things occurred to me as the line muddled along.

First of all, it was incredible to see the lines for early voting. People of all ages, economic status and races were in line - and none of them seemed overly annoyed by the wait. It made me happy to see people involved and it renewed my optimism (just a bit) that America can emerge from the difficulties that lay ahead a stronger, wiser nation.

Second, and more importantly, it occurred to me how extraordinary an event the election of the American President is when viewed in a historical context. The American President is often called "the most powerful man in the world". George W. Bush has demonstrated over the last eight years that this is probably true. Of course, he is not even remotely all-powerful, but his decisions mean life and death for millions (and not only on issues of war and peace).

And yet, despite the power of the office and the allure that comes with it...the office changes hands every 4 or 8 years in an utterly peaceful manner. This is something we take for granted as Americans, but it is actually an extraordinary thing.

If you look at history - or even select parts of the world in 2008 - you can regularly see dramatically less important (even trivial) offices change hands only as a result of bloodshed or other violence. But that does not, nor has it ever, happened here.

King George III is believed to have said about George Washington that he would be "the greatest man alive" if he declined to become a monarch after winning the Revolutionary War. Of course, Washington reaffirmed this selflessness when he declined to run for a third term as President. It was a remarkable act to be sure.

The true miracle, however, is that the precedent Washington set was upheld by the 41 (soon to be 42) men that followed him.

I'm generally restless and unsatisfied with the state of the country. As proud as I am of it, it is my nature to focus almost exclusively on the things that could be better. Sometimes, however, it is good to just stop, smile and be thankful for a few minutes about the things that continue to go well.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Conservative Speaking the Truth to Republicans

Killer quote from the son of conservative icon William F. Buckley who just left the National Review after endorsing Barack Obama:

While I regret [leaving the conservative National Review], I am not in mourning, for I no longer have any clear idea what, exactly, the modern conservative movement stands for. Eight years of “conservative” government has brought us a doubled national debt, ruinous expansion of entitlement programs, bridges to nowhere, poster boy Jack Abramoff and an ill-premised, ill-waged war conducted by politicians of breathtaking arrogance. As a sideshow, it brought us a truly obscene attempt at federal intervention in the Terry Schiavo case.

So, to paraphrase a real conservative, Ronald Reagan: I haven’t left the Republican Party. It left me.

I stole this post idea from another blog, but I had to include it here as I believe it reflects the experience of millions of voters and, to a large extent, my own (I have also realized that on some substantive issues I am undeniably left of center).

I have tremendous respect for truly conservative political policies and agree with many of them. I remember being excited by the "compassionate conservative" philosophy that George W. Bush campaigned on in 2000 - and it led me to vote for him. But the governance of the last 8 years has been neither compassionate nor conservative.

I can understand why one may not be comfortable (much less excited) voting for a Democrat this year - but I absolutely cannot understand how one can justify voting for a member of the current Republican Party.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Sounds Like Leadership....

Picking up on a thought at the end of my last post....

Remarks from Barack Obama yesterday:

"Part of the reason this crisis occurred is that everyone was living beyond their means – from Wall Street to Washington to even some on Main Street. CEOs got greedy. Politicians spent money they didn't have. Lenders tricked people into buying homes they couldn't afford and some folks knew they couldn't afford them and bought them anyway. We've lived through an era of easy money, in which we were allowed and even encouraged to spend without limits; to borrow instead of save.
Now, I know that in an age of declining wages and skyrocketing costs, for many folks this was not a choice but a necessity. People have been forced to turn to credit cards and home equity loans to keep up, just like our government has borrowed from China and other creditors to help pay its bills. But we now know how dangerous that can be. Once we get past the present emergency, which requires immediate new investments, we have to break that cycle of debt. Our long-term future requires that we do what's necessary to scale down our deficits, grow wages and encourage personal savings again."

This is a fairly easy thing to say (though it is more than any American President since Carter has been willing to do). Assuming he is elected (still a big assumption) we'll see if Obama has the courage to put some policy muscle behind this sentiment. But I like and applaud the thought.

One final remark - these are NOT the words of a crazy tax and spend big-government liberal. I'm not about to say that Obama is not well to the left of center, but I think this is another data point that suggests that the baby-boomers definitions of "conservative" and "liberal" will (mercifully) be obsolete when the new generation takes power (perhaps as soon as 3 months from now).

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Must Read on the American Economic Situation

I haven't had the time to write a solid post on the historic economic events that have unfolded the past couple of weeks. I've been closely monitoring a variety of news sources to pass on insightful articles but have found few I felt worth forwarding - until now.

Fareed Zakaria, writing in Newsweek, has produced a marvelous 10 minute essay that explains - in very straightforward language - the reasons for the crisis and the implications for America's strategic position in the coming years.

I strongly encourage you to read the whole thing, but I want to cite a few key passages here.

We're now living history, suffering one of the greatest financial panics of all time. It compares with the big ones—1907, 1929—and we cannot yet know its full consequences for the financial system, the economy or society as a whole.

Amid all the difficulties and hardship that we are about to undergo, I see one silver lining. This crisis has—dramatically, vengefully—forced the United States to confront the bad habits it has developed over the past few decades. If we can kick those habits, today's pain will translate into gains in the long run.

Since the 1980s, Americans have consumed more than they produced—and they have made up the difference by borrowing. Two decades of easy money and innovative financial products meant that virtually anyone could borrow any amount of money for any purpose. If we wanted a bigger house, a better TV or a faster car, and we didn't actually have the money to pay for it, no problem. We put it on a credit card, took out a massive mortgage and financed our fantasies. As the fantasies grew, so did household debt, from $680 billion in 1974 to $14 trillion today. The total has doubled in just the past seven years. The average household owns 13 credit cards, and 40 percent of them carry a balance, up from 6 percent in 1970.


The whole country has been complicit in a great fraud. As economist Jeffrey Sachs points out, "We've wanted lots of government, but we haven't wanted to pay for it." So we've borrowed our way out of the problem. In 1990, the national debt stood at $3 trillion. By 2000, it had almost doubled, to $5.75 trillion. It is currently $10.2 trillion. The number moved into 11 digits last month, which meant that the National Debt Clock in New York City ran out of space to display the figures.

I've highlighted the most gloomy parts of this article - sections that actually seem to scold the American public. However, the second message of this article, which I believe is equally as valid as the section above, is that with proper leadership, the country is perfectly capable of getting up and coming out stronger on the other end....

Which leads me to a final thought.

The next President of the United States, if he really cares about the long term well-being of this nation, is going to have a miserable job. He is going to have to do more than berate CEOs and Wall Street executives (though some of that is necessary and justified). He is going to have to tell the American people, either directly or implicitly through policy decisions, that their lifestyles must change to some degree. Few American Presidents have had the stomach for this in the past...

We are going to find out very quickly next year if we have elected a true leader or just another politician.