For the first 225 years as a country we could do pretty much anything that we wanted. For the last decade we haven't been able to do much of anything. The liberal intelligentsia blames it on Bush and Obama's timidity; less than a third of the country thinks that we are on the "right track"; the political mood is "a pox on both their houses." What's up?
Well, it has become obvious that "Yes We Can" was a vacuous campaign slogan, particularly for somebody who had never done anything of note, and had never had the personnel and budget responsibilities of a governor or business owner. It is now obvious that he can't:
1. Provide the clarity that the private sector needs in order to get the economy and hiring going again - a long, muddled health care debate that turns the system upside down; a shorter, inconclusive energy debate that threatens huge costs to producers; a long financial regulation debate which does not deal with rating agencies, Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac, and (to a large extent) "too big to fail"; the impending (to be adjusted?) end of President Bush's tax cuts. What he, Nancy, and Harry have delivered is a $787 billion omnibus stimulus grab bag that many economists would say has done little to stimulate the private sector.
2. Exercise any financial constraint - compromising away any cost containment provisions in the health care legislation; proposing budgets that project unsustainable deficits for a decade; telling the G20 that he wants another round of spending before the party is over; watching our prime lender, China, call for the end of the dollar's reign as the world's reserve currency.
3. Provide for security - Iran and North Korea; the Mexican border; an objective-less Afghan War; meaningful interrogation of terrorists.
4. Fix the gushing metaphor in the Gulf - or at least provide skimmers to gather up what cannot be prevented.
So, where can optimists who believe in America's "exceptionalism" look for hope?
1. The first Tuesday in November. It looks increasingly possible that Nancy Pelosi will be out of a job, and that the Democrats will have a narrow majority in the Senate. Hopefully, the Tea Party fiscal conservatives will have enough influence to prevent the Republicans from returning to their pattern of the last decade.
2. The world's greatest economic engine. We are the unquestioned technology leader in a century which will be dominated by technology. Contrary to conventional wisdom, we are still the leader in manufacturing output, and the patent office granted twice as many patents in 2008 as in 1990. We have the world's most productive agriculture and the best universities. We sit on enough energy if we can get our act together. Ongoing productivity of 3% leads to profitable companies, structural unemployment of some 10%, and a social problem, but that is under our control if we choose.
3. The political system is self-correcting - perhaps our greatest strength. Many states and communities are starting to require that public employees retirement ages, pensions, and health care contributions look more like the rest of us. Here in California we have taken redistricting away from the legislators and mandated open primaries to help centrist candidates. Now, if we can just do what the Canadians did in the 90's (see last week's posting), and demand that the politicians produce balanced budgets.
Many Democrats who prayed that President Bush would fail now criticize Republicans for wanting the same for President Obama. On many policies this is reasonable - suing Arizona; trying terrorists in civilian courts; spending to oblivion - but in the larger sense we should be hoping that, despite much evidence to the contrary, he has learned something about management.
And this week's You Tube - the Obama administration's plan to fix the "undocumented worker" problem in Arizona.
bill bowen - 7/2/10