Darning Needles and Shopping Carts

My mom was a single parent for most of my life.  Because Mom worked full time, my grandmother had an important place in my upbringing.  I spent a lot of time at Gram’s house and her way of looking at life became an integral part of mine.

She did things much differently than Mom did.  If I had a hole in one of my socks, mom would throw them out and get me another pair.  If Gram saw a hole she got out her darning needle and fixed them.  Mom thought nothing of going out to a restaurant for a meal.  The only times that I ever saw Gram eat out was when I begged her to let me take her out for lunch.  Mom would hop in the car and run to the supermarket for a loaf of bread.  Gram would walk ten blocks pulling a wire cart behind to get a week’s worth of groceries.  It’s not that Mom was careless with her money, she wasn’t.  The point is that Gram took every opportunity she could to save a penny.  It was years later when I realized that the reason for her frugality was that she raised a family during the Great Depression. Surviving times like that will change a person for the rest of their life. It most certainly changed my grandmother.

I’ve been saying for months that this election was about the economy and that nothing else was going to get fixed until the economy was on the mend.  In those months the economy has gotten progressively worse with each passing week, to the point that we’re now at the convergence point of a perfect storm.  How we got here and how we get out is a topic for another discussion.  This discussion is about who will lead us through the wind and rain.

My son, whose opinion I greatly respect, recently lamented that the whole country seems to blame George W. Bush for every bad thing that’s happened in the last eight years.  His contentions are that the President doesn’t pass laws, his job is to implement them, and that the Democratic congress bears most of the fault.  That’s true to a point, Congress does have the responsibility to pass laws, enact taxes, set the budget and declare war.  But it’s also true that the President has the right to suggest a direction for the Congress to follow.  Moreover, his veto authority under the concept of checks and balances gives him immense influence on what laws are passed what taxes are raised and whether the budget is implemented.  Finally, he appoints the judges who interpret the laws and he defines our foreign affairs policies.  The President is never the entire problem, but he has to be the champion of any solution.

The economic turmoil that we’re all experiencing has all the earmarks of being a life-defining event for many of us.  I’m close enough to retirement that I’m sure it will be for me.  The value of my home, the value of my retirement savings and when I can retire are all being affected.  They’ll never be what they could have been. To me, more than ever, this election is all about whom can best shepherd us until the sky clears.

Negative ads notwithstanding, Barack Obama and John McCain are both capable of being President.  Eighteen months of campaigning have vetted them both for the job.   The character issues with which we are being bombarded from both camps are merely distractions and are of no value.  Also not considerations are their hopes and plans for non-economic issues.  The truth is, it will be years before we have the discretionary income to implement any significant non-essential systemic improvements.  So, if the economy is the game, let’s look at the players.

A leader has to realize that his ability comes not solely from his strength, but also from the strength of the team that surrounds him.  Senator McCain is by his own definition a maverick.  Under a different set of circumstances, that would be appealing to most voters, including me.  But, after the last few weeks, I want someone in office who recognizes that he doesn’t have all of the answers. I want someone who surrounds himself with the best and brightest, listens to what they have to say and then makes a valued decision on a course of action.  Eight years ago, the maverick label was a strength.  Here and now, not so much.  I don’t want a maverick; I want a team builder and an organizer.  The Republicans have tried to make a joke of Senator Obama’s work as a community organizer.  I disagree.  He helped people get through some hard times doing that and honed a valuable skill set in the process, a skill set that you and I are going to need.  Score – Obama one, McCain zero

A leader has to be an effective negotiator and able to take control without unnecessary alienation. Senator McCain has shown himself to be a capable leader for many years, but he’s prone to anger and ineffectual sarcasm on a regular basis. He often succeeds by intimidation.  Senator Obama has less leadership experience but his actions are carefully measured and he has tight control of his emotions.  I think Obama is more likely to walk out of a meeting with a majority of the participants in consensus.  In another time and under different circumstances I might have gone with McCain on this one.  But now, being able to broker a deal and convince everyone to pull the same direction is a big plus.  Especially when you realize that there are going to be a plethora of differing ideas about what needs to be done in the next few years.   Score – Obama two, McCain zero.

A leader has to be able to calmly and rationally evaluate each situation or problem.  McCain couldn’t have made it to the position that he’s in without being able to do that, but he’s also shown an unnerving impulsive streak.  I can think of three recent examples to support that.  Last spring he called for a summer moratorium on the gas tax.  He did that in a knee jerk effort to appeal to voters.  It only took ninety seconds of basic math to show that moratorium would provide no real relief to anyone and would greatly restrict our road-building funds.  A few weeks ago he made a grandstand play of suspending his campaign and returning to Washington to be part of the bailout negotiations.  He had no real role there and, by all independent observations, made no significant contribution.  He went because he thought it would make him “look” decisive.  Finally, just last week he offered up a plan to buy up individual mortgages from distressed homeowners and renegotiate the terms and principles of the loans. Comforting idea, but he put no thought into the magnitude of that task, the mechanics of implementing it or the long-term effects to the rest of the country.  He presented that snap idea because it sounded good at the time and he hoped it would turn the polls in his direction.  Barack Obama resisted each of those ideas or actions on their lack of merit and has floated no similar “shoot from the hip” ideas of his own.  He has shown himself and his plans to be thoughtful and delibrate.  Score – Obama three, McCain zero.

The leader we need is going to have to be at the top of his game.  There are going to be tough decisions to make and often little time in which to make them.  He’s going to have to make evaluations with minimal information and in situations that are not as controlled as he would like.  He’s going to have to think through the problem and examine multiple potential outcomes. It’s going to be a game of chess.  We have a choice between an aging politician who graduated near the bottom of his class at Annapolis and a middle age politician who graduated cum laude from Harvard.  With every passing year, I get a little slower and my thoughts get a little fuzzier.  Since it became age appropriate for me, my mantra has always been, “age and experience beats youth and talent every time.”   But, in this case, the scales are tipped too far.   I want someone in office who has an abundance of synapses that are all firing at their peak.  Score – Obama four, McCain zero.

With the vice-presidential candidates that are on the tickets, health and age are big issues for me.  The presidency ages people quickly.  If you doubt that, look at before and after pictures of the last five presidents.  Each one aged two or three years for every year that they were in office.  I have a real fear that McCain won’t make it through his term and the thought that Sarah Palin would take over scares the crap out of me.  As I said in my last post, under different circumstances she could be a good leader.  But the reality is that she hasn’t taken the initiative to educate herself about national and international issues over the years.  She took the lazy way out and concentrated on the subjects that she needed to understand to operate in remote Alaska.  She’s trying to play catch up now.  She may be a quick study, but that’s not enough for this job.  McCain and Biden gained their experience from years in national office.  Obama took the quick course with eighteen months of campaigning for president.  Sarah Palin needs remedial training.   Score – Obama five, McCain zero

This last point is something that most people will consider superficial but, with what we’re facing, I think that it’s important.  The next president is going to ask us to accept and do some very difficult things.  He’s going to ask us to make some serious sacrifices.  In a very real sense, he’s going to be like the inner voice that convinces the fox to chew off its foot to get out of the hunter’s trap.  When John McCain is speaking he has a lilting, pleading tone that reminds me of my grandfather telling me a story about how it was in the old days.  When Barack Obama speaks it’s with the calm, self-assured tone of a doctor who understands the issue, has a solution and knows how it affects the person he is talking to.  Neither of those tones has an impact on who can best solve the problem.  But, any solution is going to require that the country work as a team.  In the quiet of the evening, when I’m listening to a presidential address, I’m more likely to nod my head in agreement and follow the person who inspires confidence than the one who pleads. I think most people have the same inclination.  Franklin Roosevelt knew this.  John Kennedy knew this.  Ronald Reagan knew this.  So does Barack Obama.   Final score – Obama six, McCain zero.

I learned long ago that any election is about which candidate can convince enough voters that he is good for them personally.  Some voters will look at entire platforms and decide which one is best for them as a whole.  Some voters will focus on a single issue that they feel strongly about.  Some voters focus solely on the candidate and make their decision on a more personal level.  I think that we live and function in an interconnected system so I’m usually a platform person.  But circumstances make this election different.  This President will be focused on one major issue for four years.  For me this is a one-issue election. The mechanics of the economic recovery plan are for the experts to develop.  The President can only direct that process.  His real role as a leader, as always, is implementation.  John McCain is a good man. Eight years ago, in a different time, he was my candidate.  Today, here and now with the choices we have, Barack Obama is the better leader and gets my vote.  Lord, give him strength, courage and wisdom. He, and we, will need it.

Eighteen months of observation and soul searching have brought me to this. I’m leaving my moderate Republican ideals behind and laying my trust and prosperity in the hands of a liberal Democrat.  Just as important, for the first time in my life I’m voting for someone who is younger than I am.  That’s a defining moment for anyone.  Hold on to your hats everybody, we’re in for a bumpy ride. Linda, do we even have a darning needle?

See Ya,

TD

P.S.  It’s not Florida, Florida, Florida this time and despite the pundits and polls it’s not Ohio, Virginia, Nevada or New Hampshire either.  If it’s close on election night, people are going to be saying Indiana, Indiana, Indiana.  Watch!

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