Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Big, Strong, Capable Hands

As I follow the current political yammerings about the economic free fall and corresponding water downed stimulus my memory harkens back to September 14, 2001. Americans were wandering around wet eyed; fearful on so many levels. The desire of citizens from every walk of life to do something....anything, was palpable. Our leader at the time took to the streets with bull horn in hand. Never a man of (sensible) words, he mustered up every ounce of swagger in his being and spoke to an exhausted yet inspired crowd of rescue workers. He had some trouble with the horn and someone yelled out, "We can't hear you!". Bush immediately responded, "I can hear YOU!".

The crowd cheered.
It hardly mattered. He had us at hello.

Bush spoke of earned capital after he anchored in his second term in office. I'd argue that he had that capital in the palm of his hands on the days in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and he squandered it.

While "Yes We Can!" had yet to become the lightning bolt phrase it turned into on this year's campaign trail it was certainly a feeling that permeated through a nation hellbent on doing rather than sitting idly by letting a catastrophe get the better of us. We were ready and willing to lend a hand, to donate services, to hunker down...just waiting for our leader to advise us on how we could help.
When our economy faltered in fear in the months following 9/11 we were told to spend. We were frequently told to spend and then spend some more. Some of us thought it was awfully ironic that a so-called conservative administration was acting like a six year old given free reign at a Toys r Us. But we did what we were told. Like sheep. Sheep who came upon deals too good to be true but got caught up in the American Dream of home ownership. Mortgage companies didn't put a gun to our heads but isn't the view from this bay window leading out to 3/4 of an acre purty? Think you can't afford it? Well, maybe if we finagle this number here and make it so that you can afford it now and MAYBE you can afford it in 5 years if nothing God forbid strikes your family in the meantime. But wait...we were told to spend! My job is secure and my kids are healthy, if not vibrantly so. So I'm stealing from Peter to pay Paul with credit cards jacked up with interest rates of 25%. It'll work itself out. I hope it'll work itself out.

But sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes having no regulation when you're dealing with money is a very, very bad thing. We didn't self-regulate and neither did our government and now we're both screwed.

It's a new dawn, a new day. We have a young man in charge with a new brand of swagger reminiscent of the best men of long ago generations. This man, unlike his successor, is a wordsmith at heart. His intelligence is magnificent and his ability to generate excitement is unprecedented. At this crossroads in history an American President, once again, has us in the palm of his hands.
This is why it's so deeply regrettable that the stimulus package, as it stands now, is bereft of real change. One of its main goals is to increase confidence in the market. Right now Wall Street is wringing its hands in worry and Main Street is focused on making ends meet. Not a lot of confidence anywhere. It seems that those at the helm are intent on using bipartisanship as a way to signal an end to politics as usual. It's a beaut of a theory but in reality it appears that extreme ideologies have no interest in budging, even if it means shitty days are about to get even shittier.
What I wonder is why there aren't more clever ideas on the table for this package. Here we're supposed to have the brightest men and women trading ideas, banging heads, spending their newfound liberally-bent capital and their big idea is to build new schools?
Bravo to that, for sure, but COME ON! What about rail lines and big tax breaks for only those who invest in green technology? How about something like another World's Fair? It would employ hundreds of thousands and stimulate the economy the way only a vast outside shopping mall might.
I don't see it as either or. Why can't one be a centrist AND forward-thinking? With all that's at stake the stimulus should be unlike anything we've ever seen - broad and awe-inspiring, not weak and underwhelming.

I want to believe we are now in big, strong, capable hands but there's an image gnawing at me.
It's the Rockbiter from the 1980s fantasy flick The Neverending Story. This giant yet gentle creature was sure he'd be able to hold onto his miniature friends when The Nothing made its way through Fantasia. What happened instead was one of the saddest parts of the entire movie.

They look like big, good, strong hands. Don't they?

I always thought that's what they were. My little friends. The little man with his racing snail, the Nighthob, even the stupid bat. I couldn't hold on to them. The nothing pulled them right out of my hands. I failed.

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