“Statesman – \stāts-mən\ noun\ one who exercises political leadership wisely and without narrow partisanship.” This is how Miriam-Webster defines the word statesman. The word was coined in 1592, long before our experiment in democracy was born. In the years since our republic’s birth, we’ve been blessed with any number of statesmen. Some have been Presidents. Some have been other leaders. All exhibited the common traits defined above.

Unfortunately, not all of our Presidents have met this high standard. That’s not to say that many weren’t competent stewards of the office. With only a couple of notable exceptions, most of them were. But a defensible argument can be made that the last statesman who held the office was Franklin D. Roosevelt. Here was a man who successfully led our country through some of the most difficult times that it had ever faced. He accomplished that feat by doing what needed to be done without pandering to the constant pleas of the voters for an easy out to the crises they faced. He made his case to the country in clear, honest and concise terms and convinced the voters that lasting progress can require sacrifice and seldom comes easily.

Much has made over the last few weeks about Barack Obama’s comments concerning the “bitterness” of middle America and the viability of a gas tax moratorium. There are other controversies of course, but those are of a different type and tenor. These two, attack his basic understanding of the people he is campaigning to lead and the methods he’ll use to address the problems they face. They attack the core of his ability to fill the office of the Presidency of the United States.

I’m just a shop rat engineer and I’m not versed in economic theory, human psychology, international relations or any of the host of other skills and abilities that a national leader needs to have. But, the good Lord did bless me with a modicum of common sense. That common sense tells me that a percentage of our population is bitter. Twice in my life I’ve been forced to relocate my family from a home we loved because the place I worked shut down. The last time this happened was less than a year ago when my employer moved a well managed, profitable operation from Indiana to Mexico because they thought that there was a potential for labor cost savings and higher return on investment. That act, driven by NAFTA, put several hundred people out of work. Many of those people had more than thirty years service to the company. They were of an age that dropped them precisely in a group that was too old to easily find a new job while, at the same time, being too young to retire. That same scenario is being played out all over our country. While the workers and families who deal with that situation seldom give up and quit, they are bitter about it. I know they are, I’ve sat with them to talk and sometimes to cry.

Over four thousand families across our country are dealing with the loss of a loved one in a justifiable, but poorly executed, war in Iraq. Each of those families struggle with financial and emotional problems that will not quickly fade. At some level, many or most of them are bitter. I know they are, I’ve sat with some of them to talk and often to cry.

Hundreds of thousands of families across our country are dealing with losing their home. Sometimes it’s because of employment or medical problems out of their control. Sometimes it’s because they made poor financial decisions when they purchased their home. Sometimes it’s a result of predatory marketing by mortgage lenders and developers. Regardless of the reason, they’ve lost their home and they’re bitter about it. I know they are, I’ve sat with some of them to talk and often to cry.

The list goes on, and it’s seemingly endless. But the conclusion is that people and families who were used to working hard and building a good life are now finding themselves cascading uncontrollably down a slope straight into a pool of bitterness. Recognizing that isn’t elitist and it doesn’t signify being out of touch with middle America. It shows insight and a willingness to understand that a government’s actions can have an immediate and profound impact on the lives of its citizens.

Gas prices are soaring. The reasons for this ballistic rise are many. Developing nations such as China and India are dramatically increasing the world’s energy consumption. Continuing turmoil in the oil producing countries creates questions about the stability of oil supplies. A plummeting dollar is forcing an artificial increase in crude oil prices. Aging refineries can’t keep up with demand and America’s love for all things large and ostentatious has created a vehicle fleet that uses much more fuel than needed.For each one of these reasons, there is a solution. That solution is not a three-month repeal of the federal gas tax. First, let’s be realistic and run the numbers.

It’s difficult to find an accurate estimate of annual miles driven. The answer depends on the number of vehicles in a family, geographic location, family income and a host of other factors. But, for the sake of argument, let’s use 15,000 miles per year. The wide variety of vehicles involved also makes coming up with an average miles per gallon number a bit fuzzy, but 18 mpg is probably in the ball park given the huge size of many trucks and SUVs. With that, let’s see what we get.

15,000 divided by 4 = 3,750 miles driven per car in the summer.
3,750 divided by 18 mpg = 209 gallons of gas per car over the summer.
209 X .184 Federal Gas Tax Rate = $38.46 saved per vehicle

That’s 42 cents per day; not even enough to buy a Pepsi. This is a solution to gas prices? Not likely.

So what is a solution? How about increasing the gas tax by 50 cents and using the proceeds to fund research into and implementation of alternative energy sources? How about making the tax credits for buying a hybrid vehicle permanent? How about a federal tax on any vehicle bought for personal use that doesn’t get 25 mpg? How about tax credits for any business that actually DECREASES their carbon footprint? How about a permanent tax credit for any homeowner who invests in an effective energy use reduction improvement or alternative energy source such as solar, geothermal or wind? How about eliminating the “carbon trading” industry which does nothing but give business a way to avoid making energy improvements? How about putting the same effort into cold fusion research that we put into military research? How about……..the list is endless.

Obama is right on this one. Clinton and McCain are pandering for votes. Eliminating the gas tax does nothing to solve the problem and, in the end, the minimal financial impact will leave the voters feeling empty and used. The ones who buy into the hype will have sold their vote for $38.46.

We’re at one of those times when the problems that our next president will face require the skills of a statesman. Unfortunately, there’s no way of knowing before an election whether the any particular candidate qualifies as one. I don’t think that Hillary Clinton has the potential. I used to think that John McCain might, but after the last couple of weeks I’m not so sure. So far, Barack Obama hasn’t given me any indication that he can’t rise to that level. I’m still not sure which way I’ll vote next fall, but I’m a little closer.


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One Comment on “Statesman”

  1. Tom Says:

    I see you have finally gotten to the point I was at when we talked a few weeks ago, CONFUSED. I still don’t know, but I’m getting closer.

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