Saturday, March 28, 2009

An Example (or Two)

We all know that the President wants a middle class tax cut. This policy will ensure that 95% of working Americans get a tax break, while the wealthiest 5% go back to the rates they were paying under Ronald Reagan.

Some folks sincerely and totally oppose this policy. They might believe that it is a “redistribution of wealth” (of course, it is; but so is policy that ensures that the rich get richer while the poor and middle class get poorer). They might believe that it is morally wrong (after all morally pure, hard-working people earned their great wealth; this policy rewards lazy, immoral working people for being…lazy and immoral). They might believe philosophically that government should stay out of it-- to let the laissez (lazy)-faire free market do its thing (gotta love that free market). They might believe that a middle class tax cut that lets 95% of working families keep more of their hard-earned money is tantamount to Communism (now that’s some convoluted logic!) They might simply believe that it’s bad policy.

But suppose the President does secure such a tax cut. And suppose that after the tax cut kicks in, Americans start getting their heads above water, stimulating the economy with purchases they can afford, confidence returns, homes are being built and bought, employment improves, and the economy begins heading in a better direction. Then we have a successful policy, a successful President, and a successful America. I know: That would be horrible!

Now suppose the President secures such a tax cut, but the effect is to strangle the economy. Americans far and wide struggle more. There is no economic stimulation. Consumer confidence worsens. More banks refuse to lend. More homes are foreclosed upon. Unemployment increases. I call that failure in America, failure of policies, and failure of the President. And we can all rejoice that the President and his policies failed. Nevermind that the American economy failed.

Once again, this is the only legitimate way to measure failure. Implementing a policy isn’t the measure of success or failure. The outcome of the implementation is the measure. So those who are hoping (and praying) for the failure of this President and/or his policies are hoping (and praying) for the failure of America. If they truly want America to succeed in the next four years, they will have to bite the bullet and hope (and maybe pray) for the success of this President and his policies, even the ones they don’t think are worthy. Otherwise, I suggest they take a tip from Usher, and :"Hush".

Now imagine that a President wants to save the world from terrorism. His plan, his strategy, his policy is to invade a sovereign country and start a war. I may disagree with this policy as a strategy for protecting our nation and the world from terrorism. I might actually believe his policies make the world less safe, but I’m not gonna wish for his failure. I’m gonna wish that his wrong-headed, immoral, ill-informed policy is successful in ridding the world of terrorism. Anything else would be un-American. But the measure of his success will not be the day he announces “Mission Accomplished,” unless his policy has actually made the nation and the world safer.

Friday, March 27, 2009

This Ain’t March Madness

There are at least two ways to fill out NCAA Basketball brackets. There’s the predictive way: “Here’s who I THINK is gonna win.” But I don’t know enough about the teams this year to do that. So I filled out my brackets with the second way: “Here’s who I WANT to win.” And I had any number of reasons for choosing each of the teams I chose. I picked Syracuse in the early rounds because I think Orangemen is a funny name. I picked Tennessee because I live in Tennessee. I picked Dayton because my family’s from Ohio. I picked Temple because Bill Cosby went there. I picked the unlikely Cornell over Missouri because I always like to see Ivy League schools excelling in sports. Although my reasons for choosing teams are sometimes silly, by hoping my team succeeds, I am hoping the opposing team fails.

That’s how it works in sports. There are no really legitimate reasons to pick one team over another. I know people who believe with all their hearts that their ongoing rivalry with another team has some cosmic dimension or that there is something inherently evil about a particular team and something inherently virtuous about another, but they delude themselves. Fortunately it’s all in fun. It’s just basketball.

Unfortunately, too many people play politics the same way. Problem is the issues are deeper and more complicated, the stakes are much higher, so it’s understandable that folks would attach much significance to their preferred stance. These are not necessarily silly choices like my NCAA picks. But there’s another difference here: Governance is not primarily about choosing sides. It’s not a game!

And yet people get so devoted to their ideological team (party) and to demonizing-- or hoping for the failure of --the other team, that they forget what it means to win in government. They’ve convinced themselves that winning means that their own views prevail (I win, you lose—or vice versa). But the only win in government is when the govern-ers (elected or otherwise) succeed at making America a better place, either by what they do or by what they refrain from doing. If they fail, we all fail. If we cheer their failure, we are cheering for America’s failure.

Maybe political campaigns are a game. But this Presidential campaign is over. Somebody’s gotta be governing and not just gearing up for the next campaign, and I guess the next campaign is what all this hoping for failure is about.

This rhetoric is not necessarily about wanting this particular President to fail; it is perhaps more about NOT wanting him to succeed. But who loses if he succeeds? Not his supporters, not the nation, not even his detractors. Who wins if this President and his policies fail? No-one--except that narrow sliver of people who opposed him and will run for office soon. No wonder they hope for his failure, but they can't say that that's the reason.

It ain’t basketball, but it is some kind of madness.

The Measure of Success and Failure

So here’s Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (R):

The suggestion behind the “Do you want the President to fail question” is this – If you don’t answer their question with a loud “NO” immediately, if you don’t express instant obedience to the question, then you are not really a patriot, and you are essentially trying to undermine America.

Make no mistake, anything other than an immediate and compliant – “why no sir, I don’t want the President to fail” is treated as some sort of act of treason, civil disobedience, or political obstructionism.

This is political correctness run amok.

And let’s be clear, the very Democrat leaders who are now asking this phony question, are the ones who for so long wanted to see the last President fail, regardless of the issue, and regardless of whether he was right or wrong.

There is a very important role in our republic for the loyal opposition. And we must be both. We are loyal to this country, and to the republic on which it stands, one nation under God. And we will always be so. And we are loyal to the President of the United States, whether he is a Democrat or a Republican.

But make no mistake, loyalty does not mean we have to agree with his policies.

And we are also at present the opposition party. We are the party out of power. And it is altogether right and proper, and healthy for our Democracy, for us to speak up when we do not agree with the policies that this President pushes and proposes.

I will not be brow beaten on this, and I will not kow-tow to their political correctness. We will be the loyal opposition.

So…my answer to the question is very simple –

“Do you want the President to fail?”

It depends on what he is trying to do.

There is something far more important to us than whether the President or ANY politician fails.

Far more importantly, we don’t want America to fail.

Okay, people, this is getting silly. It’s simple: There’s only one measure of whether a President and/or his policies is/are successful. The measure is: Do they help the American people?

What is the meaning of failure and success when it comes to governmental policies? Success means that the American people are served. Failure means that the American people are not served.

So the inane and insane parsing of “I want the President to fail” versus “I want his policies to fail” is ridiculous. Either way, it’s a wish for the failure to serve the American people. People like Governor Jindal may be so blinded by ideology that they aren’t even aware of their folly. What these people are saying is that they are more devoted to their ideology than they are to the success of the American people. Not every issue in politics has to be us against them. I understand that cable news outlets and talk radio loudmouths make their living stirring up this “controversy” but elected officials have no excuse.

There’s certainly a place for “the loyal opposition”—for disagreeing with policies, for arguing against them and for proposing better policies--even opposite policies. There is definitely a time for saying out loud and repeatedly that you don’t think this is the right or best course of action regarding any particular issue. But arguing against is not the same as desiring failure.

Let me say what I mean straight out: Not only is desiring failure mean-spirited, it is unpatriotic, un-American. It is blind commitment to an ideology, even if an outside-your-ideology idea serves the American people better. That is a particularly self-righteous, self-serving, arrogant kind of insanity. Why would we want any governmental policy or any US president to fail?

One more time: There is no possibility that a proposed policy and its architect(s) succeed, while resulting in an America that is worse off. Worse off is failure. It’s failure for America, for the policies, and (whether you like him or not) for the President.