We are Stuck

Even if you read Tom Friedman’s column this morning, read the conclusion again:

It was hard to read President Obama’s eloquent State of the Union address and not feel torn between his vision for the coming years and the awareness that the forces of inertia and special interests blocking him — not to mention the whole Republican Party — make the chances of his implementing that vision highly unlikely. That is the definition of “stuck.” And right now we are stuck.

The sad and frustrating thing is, we are so close to being unstuck. If there were just six or eight Republican senators — a few more Judd Greggs and Lindsey Grahams — ready to meet Obama somewhere in the middle on deficit reduction, energy, health care and banking reform, I believe that in the wake of the Massachusetts wake-up call the president would indeed meet them in that middle ground to forge not just incremental compromises, but substantial ones on these key issues. But so far, the Republicans are having a good year politically by just being the Party of No.

It is a shame because here we are as a country scrounging around for a few billion more dollars of stimulus to help our unemployed and small businesses — when the biggest stimulus of all is hiding in plain sight. And that is ending our political paralysis and the pall of uncertainty it is casting over everything from the cost of my health care to the cost of my energy to the way our biggest banks can do business.

If the two parties could get together and remove the clouds of uncertainty over those issues, remove the growing sense that our country is politically paralyzed, you would not need another dime of stimulus money. Investment and lending would take off on their own. If, however, the two parties continue with their duel-to-the-death paralysis, no amount of stimulus will give us the sustained growth and employment we need.

It is disconcerting that we can no longer solve the problems we’ve created (see 1/2/10 blog on loss of civic capacity).  As David Brooks said this morning on Meet the Press, the feds can’t solve the jobs problem, and they won’t solve the suicidal fiscal problem.  It all leaves me an angry Independent equally frustrated by both parties.
There should be a majority in Congress and in state houses around the country for a pro-growth/pro-innovation agenda

  • Competitive tax rates and free trade
  • Accountable public services and quality infrastructure
  • World class education for every young person
  • Targeted investments in energy self-sufficiency

It’s not a zero-sum game (as Larry Summers said to Fareed Zakaria this morning) but as Friedman points out, the US is competing with countries that get things done.  We value our open rather than planned economy, but we’ve been hijacked by the ’just say no’ folks on both sides of the isle.  We need political leaders with the courage to tackle entitlement reform, inject accountability into public services, and invest in the new tech/clean tech economy.  With 38 gubernatorial elections, and 36 Senate and 435 House seats up for grabs this November, we have a chance to get out of the ditch.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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