Thought of the Day: Twenty Four Hours

Tomorrow evening we should know who the next President will be. It is possible of course that we won’t know until the early hours of Wednesday. While half of Americans will be disappointed, almost all of us will be relieved. And, no matter what happens tomorrow, we will survive.

Nevertheless, this election is an unusually important one. The contenders represent two very different views of America and the outcome will affect our country over the next several years, if not decades. Most simply put, Mr. Obama is of the school that bigger is better; that modern society demands a larger, more intrusive (and inclusive) government, and that government is here to help.

Mr. Romney is of the opinion that too often government interference conflicts with the basic rights of a free people; that over-regulation and too-high taxes inhibit creativity and individual desire, and that success rests with the individual, relying on his or her aspirations, creativity and a willingness for hard work. Mr. Obama sees equality in outcomes; while Mr. Romney prefers equality of opportunity.

Despite the media’s focus on Hurricane Sandy and the killings in Benghazi, the biggest threat facing the country is the fiscal one. Our federal debt now exceeds 100% of GDP. The magnitude of that debt limits our ability to invest in the future or to respond to the changing dynamics of the global environment. Our house must be reordered before we can assume additional responsibilities. 

We face an entitlement system for which promises were made by politicians in exchange for votes, but with no conception or, frankly, even concern as to how they would be funded. Those obligations measure in the trillions of dollars and aggravate the debt we now struggle to handle. We have a federal government that has been operating with annual deficits in the trillions of dollars. We have a Federal Reserve that has kept borrowing costs at near zero, effectively masking the real costs of our debt.

None of these problems are the exclusive purview of Democrats. Republicans have been equally guilty of financial shenanigans. But Mr. Obama has done nothing to alleviate the situation. In fact, he worsened it in 2009 by putting ideology ahead of practicality. However, a benefit of the democratic system is that when incumbents fail the electorate, they should, as the saying goes, throw the rascals out.

The fallout from the September 11th tragedy in Benghazi deserves consideration. The decisions made before and during the attack are certainly subject to debate and should be reviewed by independent counsel. The President and his staff have defended them. Conservatives have broadly condemned what happened. But it is difficult to Monday-morning-quarterback the President’s actions at the time; though it certainly appears, with four deaths, that bad decisions were made. 

However, there should be no debate about the subsequent cover-up regarding the cause of the attack.  There is no doubt that Mr. Obama was fully aware, at the time of the attack, that the violence was not caused by a mob responding to a video – it was a deliberate, pre-planned attack by Muslim extremists with al Qaeda connections using heavy weapons. Unfortunately that fact did not fit with the President’s message about al Qaeda being in retreat.

So, like President Richard Nixon in 1972 and the Watergate break-in, Mr. Obama chose not only to deceive the American people, but he had his subordinates – everyone from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to UN Ambassador Susan Rice, to Press Secretary Jay Carney – deliberately mislead the American public by blaming the attack on a video. Not unlike Watergate forty years earlier, this was a deliberate lie to advance a personal agenda.

Crises, as Rahm Emmanuel so infamously reminded us four years ago, are terrible things to waste. Leftists, utilizing that strategy, immediately jumped on Hurricane Sandy, as a crisis worthy of deflecting a growing interest in Benghazi and worries about the economy by reviving the subject of climate change. Leftist politicians used the storm to remind voters of what they see as Republican recalcitrance toward the environment. The storm was also seen as a means of reviving support for some of their favorite projects – solar and wind farms, and expensive, eco-friendly automobiles.

Politicians, from Mayor Bloomberg to Senator Chuck Schumer, argued that storms are getting worse and more frequent, which they are not. There is, as others have pointed out, no truth to those allegations. But truth never bothered an ideologue. When it is in their interest to deflect attention from more pressing matters, mistruths are viewed as white lies. In the past century, the 1950s still stand as the most storm-prone decade, not the recent few years. 

Somewhat atypical was Mayor Bloomberg’s strange epiphany in endorsing Mr. Obama, not for his handling of the economy, or his leadership in Libya, but because of his alleged actions in the aftermath of Sandy. The President flew over storm-ruined beaches and destroyed houses, and met with a few carefully selected individuals who had lost their homes. Later, the President returned to the White House and Mr. Bloomberg to his upper-East Side townhouse, while two million people in the tri-state region remained without power, many of them homeless.

All life effects the environment and man’s activities may well be the most damaging. But change in temperatures and weather are an intrinsic part of life on this planet. That has always been the case and always will be. Attempts to maintain the status quo, to halt the rise and/or fall of the oceans will inevitably fail. If they succeeded, stagnation would cause all life to die. To pretend otherwise is to ignore reality. It is also in the nature of man to live as well as possible. That means that emerging economies will always be more destructive to the environment than mature ones, but it also means that as societies become wealthier they choose to live in a cleaner environment. 

The mouth of the Connecticut River where I live is Exhibit A in this case. It is cleaner today than it was 175 years ago. What I find especially offensive are the sanctimonious emanations from arrogant, disdainful politicians about global warming while millions of people are concerned about food and shelter, and now gasoline and heat. It never ceases to amaze me how politicians of all stripes have learned to convert tragedy into personal gain.

If anything, events, since Hurricane Sandy struck on Sunday evening a week ago, have shown how weak is our infrastructure and how unprepared we are to handle emergencies such as a major storm. On a personal basis, we in Old Lyme were without power for five days. The same was true for my children in Rye, NY, and Greenwich and Darien in Connecticut. While technology has advanced in so many ways over the past ten years, it seems remarkable that we are no better able to handle a crisis such as Hurricane Sandy than we were forty, fifty or sixty years ago. In fact, one might argue we are less able today. Whether the problem is too much regulation with top-heavy bureaucracies or too few linesmen, I don’t know. But outages did not last as long in my youth as they do today, despite storms that were more severe than Sandy.

There have been stories of volunteers arriving from other states, but who were turned around because they were non-union workers. The linesmen who ultimately cleared our street were in trucks that bore Texas license plates. While, on a certain level, it is a nice feeling to know that people have traveled so far to help their fellow Americans, one cannot help wonder if that was the most efficient use of personnel and equipment, especially at a time when unemployment remains so high. In general, it seems to me that local governments are most capable of dealing with local problems. That is not to understate the importance of the ability for local leaders to call upon state and federal officials for expertise or funds when needed. But the first line of defense should be at the local level, not at a Washington bureaucracy. Big government has not been much help in this crisis.

On the other hand, the private sector did respond, and almost immediately. In Old Lyme, we had people show up on Tuesday to begin the process of cleaning the debris from fallen branches and tree tops knocked off in the storm. Twice, the propane people came to refill the tanks for our generator. The private economy worked.
These factors are important to consider as we make our ways to the polls tomorrow to determine the type of leadership we want. Should we put our future into the hands of government – a Julia’s world, if you will – or should we rely principally on our own aspirations, abilities and hard work? Shouldn’t we reserve government to help those truly in need and for the purposes it was originally intended – essential services like protection, education, transportation and national defense, all operating within the framework of the rule of law?

The President has done very little over the past four years for the people he purports to represent. Middle income earnings are lower than four years ago. The labor force has shrunk. Poverty has increased. As a measure as to how bleakly Americans view their prospects, birthrates in 2011 were 63.3 per thousand women, the lowest number ever recorded in the U.S. And 40% of those births were to unwed mothers!

As I said at the start, no matter the results, the country will survive and, in time, thrive. But I do think the two visions presented by Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney are different enough to warrant careful consideration. We should never lose sight of the individual freedoms that this great nation granted its citizens, and for which so many have sacrificed so much over so many years. It becomes very easy for those of us who have done well to forget the essence of freedom that has driven so many to our shores. We too often take those basic freedoms for granted. We forget that each time we grant added responsibility to government we subtract from our own intrinsic rights. The vast majority of immigrants do not come here looking for a safe haven. They come looking for an opportunity to succeed beyond their wildest imaginations. It is that opportunity that our country must continue to offer to all those with aspiration, a creative and entrepreneurial spirit, and a willingness to work hard. That is the promise of America, and that is why this election – less than twenty-four hours away – is so important.

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