Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ideology Versus Governing

Dear President Obama:

For the last two months, We the People have watched – in some horror – the full and true picture of how our elected government is operating today.  Past legislative battles have been but a pale preview of the political warfare now occurring over raising the debt limit.  And We the People are not at all happy with what we see.

There is no question that We the People have widely different views about the proper role of government – federal, state and local – in our economic, religious and personal lives.  Nor is there a question that many of us hold those views with strong passion.  But there is no question that the greatness of America has always been its ability to transcend those differences, moderate our extremes, and ultimately do the right thing for the greatest good.  It is only when we have failed to see and strive for that bigger view that We the People have collectively come up short in the great promise that is America.

We now have bills to pay for monies already spent based on previous commitments of Congress-persons and Presidents.  In hindsight, some of those bills may have been good or bad decisions, but they are decisions long sense made.  Now we have to live with them responsibly.  Like any corporate chief or small business owner, when expected revenues do not work out, one needs to borrow to get through today while concurrently making smart plans about tomorrow.  In such times, it is vital to keep one’s credit worthiness whole, and to demonstrate an unflinching commitment to paying one’s obligations.  Yet our current debt is not just about the credit worthiness of the federal government; it is more importantly about affirming the “full faith, credit and backing” of We the People.  It is all pretty simple and basic stuff.

Yet instead of dealing honestly and efficiently with this credit management need, our government has instead decided to hold this backbone of our economic stability hostage to a wide-ranging ideological war of every conceivable pet philosophy.  The supposed debt “debate” in fact has little to do with the debt limit.  All of the current arguments instead reflect classic disagreements over the size and role of government, how it should be paid for, and by whom.  These are heated arguments on both sides that have been with us unsettled since our Constitution was first written.

But where in the past these arguments ebbed and flowed and ultimately found resolution in the middle (like the writing of our Constitution itself), this time we are watching acts of legislative terrorism taking place.  (I realize that this risks sounding as its own inflammatory rhetoric, but if it looks, quacks, and waddles like a duck, there is a high probability it is a duck!)  Legislative terrorists have sized a valuable hostage (the debt limit requirement), issued their list of “non-negotiable demands” (strictly cutting spending of their own unilateral determination without new revenues), and threatened to kill the hostage if these demands are not met without compromise (a never-before, constitutionally prohibited default on our debts).  It is a classic fighting tactic of the political revolutionary – hostage-taking, ransom and killing – a tactic that all governmental leaders everywhere have always been quick to condemn.

Mere days before our deadline for paying the ransom, we are still unclear about the potential outcome.  Yet the damage to our credit standing and economic well-being is already occurring simply by the threat of a default.  Politicians who have been talking big about being committed to job creation and economic growth are in fact taking steps towards destroying any chance for an economic turnaround.  Playing “chicken” with our country’s reputation and greatness for the pure sake of ideological combat is not responsible governing, it is simply power exercised for the aggrandizement of one’s personal ego, not for our national well-being.  We the People clearly see the difference.

So what to do?  There are times when headstrong children, employees, and friends are hell-bent to follow a course without regard for the larger consequences.  Consequences upon them as well as others.  As parents, supervisors and concerned friends, we must choose between trying to forcibly stop them, or letting them go forward so that they can learn needed lessons from the disaster of their own experience.  This is one of those times.

As President, I know that your sense of overriding obligation is to protect us from our worst enemies, whether enemies within or without.  Therefore I know your instinct will be to protect our credit rating from our self-inflicted wound and accept whatever ransom demand is made.  But if you do, you will only validate the legislative terror tactics now being employed.  You will confirm that they in fact work.  And so we will see these tactics constantly replayed on every issue over the next two years – the politics of brinksmanship.  It will repeat again when we try to create a budget for FY 2012 that starts TWO MONTHS from now; have yet another debt limit battle in six months (and again six months after that?); and when we start working on the 2013 budget that takes effect in October 1, 2012 – just before the next election.

Standard policy for all law enforcement agencies is to never accede to the demands of terrorists.  I ask you to follow that same policy now.  We the (most of the ) People ask you to veto the many nonsensical proposals about the debt limit now being offered up from all quarters.  We will survive a temporary default – and it will be temporary after the consequences are upon us – though our word and our dollar bill will never mean the same to citizens the world over.  But the far greater lesson that apparently needs to be learned, and point to be made, is that this current way of “playing politics” is no way to run a government.  It is not how democracy works.  It is not how We the People desire to spend the next 1½ years, embarrassed, frustrated and ill-served by government leaders basking in all of their self-generated noise.

It is time to stop this ugly, pathetic stage show that has been occurring in Washington for the last decade or more.  We the People need big thinkers right now with effective solutions that bring the center core of Americans forward together.  We have not seen such leaders in a long, long time.  In 2010 liberal left zealots were chastised and replaced.  In 2012 the same will happen to conservative right zealots.  History affirms that a time-honored correction to the middle when needed is what We the People do.

Monday, July 4, 2011


We hear a lot of discussion these days about “entitlements,” argued on moral, legal and economic terms.  It has become another one of those loaded words that often generates argument instead of discussion because we each react to our different meanings attached to the term.  And these often unrealized differences are critical when they are part of the ongoing dialog about government budget – and budget cutting – decisions.

I believe that there are two forms of entitlements: inherent entitlements and earned entitlements.  Both forms have examples in all three areas of the moral, legal and economic arenas.

There are certain expectations and rights that I believe that I am entitled to simply because I exist as a human being.  Simply because I exist as a human being, morally I am entitled to be treated with respect and dignity; with politeness and considerateness; to be listened to for my thinking and opinions; to be undiminished vis-à-vis any other person; to be mentally and physically free to live my life – without conflicting with others – in the full expression of my creativity.  Simply because I am a citizen of this country, legally I am entitled to protection from unprovoked harm; to the same right of “ownership” of my government as my neighbor regardless of wealth, position or heritage; to be treated equally under the law as any other regardless of my perceived standing in the community.  Simply because I am a creative person of beneficial outputs who must maintain my physical well-being (and perhaps the well-being of others), economically I am entitled to be treated honestly, without falsehoods; to be given the opportunity to meet my supportive needs; and to be appropriately compensated for the gifts of my talents to society.  Importantly, we are inherently entitled to “the right to be left alone – the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized man.”  (Supreme Court Judge Louis Brandeis, Olmstead vs. United States, 1928).

These, and others that could be similarly enumerated, are inherent entitlements enabled for me simply because I am, I exist.  There is nothing I need do to obtain them; there is nothing another can rightfully do to deny them.  These rights and expectations therefore come with the fact of my humanness.  They are manifestations of the “unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” espoused in our American Declaration of Independence.  For the spiritually minded, these are rights inherent in the beauty of our divine creation.

There are also the earned entitlements we have as a result of what we do, what we give, in response to our living responsibly within a greater society.  This form of entitlement is not due me simply because I am, but are in exchange for my positive contributions and efforts.  If my labors, skills, responsibilities and outputs are similar to another’s, economically I am entitled to comparable compensation regardless of age, gender or heritage.  If I live a different lifestyle that causes no true (versus perceived) injury to others, morally I am entitled to the full and equal benefits, protection and opportunities that society offers.  If I choose to worship God (by any name seen in any form) in a manner that causes no substantive harm or hindrance to another’s worship, and does not seek to convert them away from their beliefs, then morally and legally I am entitled to be left alone and undenied in my practice.  If I give a fair day’s labor, economically I am entitled to a fair day’s wage.  If I create or invent or transform an intangible concept into a tangible reality that is useful to society, economically I am entitled to be compensated for my work – a job not of labor but of creation.

Conflict arises when one tries to take away inherent entitlements – they cannot be taken away except by force.  Conflict arises when the magnitude or scope of earned entitlements become outsized, or the entitlement is no longer seen as “earned” (no quid pro quo has been exchanged).  However, such assessments are usually subjective, as seen in the eye of the assessor.

I would submit that unique talents and contributions deserve unique entitlements.  But does a $100M baseball contract reflect a truly unique talent, or that great a benefit to our society and culture?  Is the talent of many financial and corporate executives really worth 150,000 times greater compensation than the worker who actually produces their product?  If an entitlement to basic medical care is a measure of the genuine humaneness of America, should someone who ignores a healthy eating and lifestyle be so entitled?  Is every American looking for a job entitled to get one if s/he has not maintained or expanded the skills needed in a changing job market?   If a bank is entitled to a bailout for making many bad loans, should not a homeowner who signed on to that bad loan (or even a good one) be similarly entitled to loan forgiveness?  Do excess restrictions on the use of protected, copyrighted/patented materials wind up perversely preventing their utilization and enjoyment by society?  Is the recipient of our charitable gifts and social welfare entitled to take no steps, sit idly, and make no effort to move him-/herself out of their need for help?

As always, it is in the specifics, and the individual, that the idea of entitlement gets difficult.  It is in the gray areas, and the nuances, that the conversations become difficult, but they must always come back to match concept and realities with the heart.  We are not entitled to be absolutely protected from the realities of life, the realities of nature, the realities of our human community.  When we make bad choices ignoring those realities from the outset (e.g. building a beachfront home in Florida or on the banks of the Mississippi), we are not entitled to be rescued from our recklessness – though we can accept graciously and humbly the gifts of those who have determined to help us.

We are entitled to be allowed to fulfill our potential for happiness by receiving fair and equal treatment from others.  Yet even our inherent entitlements come only as long as we act from our inherent good, not in ignorance or discrimination of others.  When we fail on our side of our entitlements – whether inherent or earned – by not appreciating our inherent humanity or by not earning life’s rewards, then we become entitled to no entitlements at all.