The nation demands the impossible: quick, painless solutions to long-term, structural problems. While they're running for office, politicians of both parties encourage this kind of magical thinking. When they get into office, they're forced to try to explain that things aren't quite so simple -- that restructuring our economy, renewing the nation's increasingly rickety infrastructure, reforming an unsustainable system of entitlements, redefining America's position in the world and all the other massive challenges that face the country are going to require years of effort. But the American people don't want to hear any of this. They want somebody to make it all better. Now.
...And one thing (President Obama) really hasn't done is frame the hard work that lies ahead as a national crusade that will require a degree of sacrifice from every one of us. It's obvious, for example, that the solution to our economic woes is not just to reinflate the housing bubble. New foundations have to be laid for a 21st-century economy, starting with weaning the nation off of its dependence on fossil fuels, which means there will have to be an increase in the price of oil. I don't want to pay more to fill my gas tank, but I know that it would be good for the nation if I did.
The richest Americans need to pay higher taxes -- not because they're bad people who deserve to be punished but because they earn a much bigger share of the nation's income and hold a bigger share of its overall wealth. If they don't pay more, there won't be enough revenue to maintain, much less improve, the kind of infrastructure that fosters economic growth. Think of what the interstate highway system has meant to this country. Now imagine trying to build it today.Barack Obama was elected to an impossibly hard presidency. He knew it going in. He ran on a platform of "Change", which ties in nicely to Mr. Robinson's argument.
President Obama can point to any number of occasions on which he has told Americans that getting our nation back on track is a long-range project. But his campaign stump speech ended with the exhortation, "Let's go change the world" -- not, "Let's go change the world slowly and incrementally, waiting years before we see the fruits of our labor."But the paramount issues for Americans kept shifting. First it was the war, then the economy, then jobs, etc. My guess is the majority of us did not agree with TARP or the auto industry bailout. Many economists said they were necessary. But I doubt if 98% of us, including those economists, politicians, etc, understood any of the ramifications, let alone the criteria for receipt of the monies. In retrospect, my personal opinion is all companies should have had to adhere to the good old capitalistic
values they espouse and "let the market decide".
I don't like being in a recession of this magnitude. But if it teaches us restraint in spending, if it teaches us to begin saving again, I understand the American people have a 6% savings rate at present, then it will be worth it. We've been spending like drunken sailors for the past twenty five years. I am hoping the discipline we learn during this very difficult time will stick. If it doesn't, the recession will look like a picnic in the park.