Ecclesiastes in Washington: A Time To Grow Up

Intervals between cycles are getting shorter, like summer turning into autumn in a matter of hours instead of days. We’re on internet time and the earth churns faster, connecting the highs and lows with shorter and smaller sine curves between deadly financial system implosions and heady bull runs. A time to reflect on why last night’s policy afterglow following a well delivered Presidential jobs address before an applauding Congress sinks so quickly into predictable partisan political and media talking points even before the President leaves the chamber.

Political parties want conflict while the country craves healing. The President intended his speech’s most memorable line to sting our national conscience, that we still have fourteen months before our national elections while those fourteen million unemployed Americans, actually close to twice that amount when we stop cheating on the math, don’t have fourteen days or even hours to wait for gridlock to transform into opportunity. We’re living on borrowed time where the interest payments on inaction and failure will bankrupt not only the Old Deal, New Deal, Great Society, our global shareholders, and Morning in America, but also outsource and pawn Freedom’s ring.

Fifteen times the President insisted that Congress pass his “American Jobs Act” to keep the country rugged, self-reliant, and connected, by mobilizing government to invest in $450 billion worth of job-related measures such as cutting payroll taxes in half for every working American, and casting off regulatory and performance shackles with the promise that “everything will be paid for”. We’ll see.

Howard Schultz, Starbuck’s founder, opined in a recent editorial that the real beast needing to be starved is not government but financial contributions to congressional reelection campaigns until we the people get the results we’ve been paying and praying for. While this appeal was directed at “Fortune Something” CEOs, getting America’s more numerous small business leaders to adopt something similar might put this threat into overdrive and cause the congressional beast to reconsider bipartisanship beauty.

President Obama insisted on themes of working across party lines, reducing corporate income tax rates for companies that create jobs in America and who make things within our borders, and demanded that voters send their voices and representatives to Washington to focus on altruistic and effective policy without regard to reelection. If only this were so.

We, the fed-up citizenry like an overly spurned, homesteading suitor, are watching to determine whether last night’s sustained congressional applause was dial-o-meter false comity or politically sustainable. In this era of shortened cycles, the American people like mandated jury in a constant mistrial, wait to see whether our current bait and switch eroded civic compact can graduate to a fair shake, whether the political circus “catch me if you can” merry-go-round of “dancing to the music stops” can transform into a national anthem of shared rewards, risks, and sacrifices where fairness and security are restored to a common national heart and drum beat.

Starting the day after, our country still on cardiac arrest after the President’s emergency room policy triage to “jolt the economy”, will try to recover and right itself either with the most expensive healthcare that money can buy or without any healthcare coverage at all. There is no more middle ground found in these mean streets. Instead, we’ve become a country in power-talking points extremis, self-injecting the national bloodstream with buzz from partisan ideological highs that invariably lead to one predictable financial crash after another. From doctors and hospitals, to bankers and underwater mortgages, to universities and pre-tax tuition payments, nobody wants to take a financial hit but everyone wants a balanced budget. Something’s got to give and a lot of somebodies have to start giving back.

Following the President’s shout-out for collective bargaining and declaration that the country is not embroiled in class warfare which earned audible mockery from his audience, Mr. Obama’s speech did single out small businesses as the source of where most new jobs begin, declaring “job creators, this bill’s for you”, while the Speaker visibly yawned and the Vice President nodded emphatically. Like sitting through an unnerving eye exam where the lenses are unable to converge and focus, the President talked about building infrastructure in an America of private construction companies salivating for work, assuming that modernizing 35,000 schools and rehabilitating homes and communities will happen now the way we want them to even though one of our two principal political parties holds as an article of faith that Stimulus One didn’t work.

Deliberately bipartisan in word and deed, the President wants more ladders out of poverty starting with an independent infrastructure fund to attract private funds based on how badly the project is needed and what good it will do, thousands of teachers back to work, American companies granted tax credits to hire America’s veterans, and unemployment insurance and tax credits extended for those six months or more without jobs (a version of the Georgia Plan which has experienced mixed results). In this brave new world, wealthiest Americans and our largest corporations will pay their fair share, while Medicare and Medicaid are placed on the policy operating table to be examined and strengthened as a benefit that is earned but under fiscal survivorship threat from an aging population and rising costs. Our cumbersome, unequal, and opaque corporate tax code will be overhauled by eliminating pages of loopholes to be replaced with advantages to companies that invest and create jobs within our borders and manufacture goods at home.

While these goals are laudable, the pushback is that we’ve heard this before and it hasn’t passed through partisan gridlock yet. More than what a speech can accomplish however well conceived and delivered, what’s feeding America’s stagnation is a deeply seeded crisis of belief that values, opportunities, results, standards, outcomes, and priorities are equitably shared. President Obama framed an “either-or” dichotomy including tax breaks for oil companies versus small businesses that create employment surges but nationally and historically we’ve proven incapable of making these choices, settling instead for mangled policy band-aids that fall off from and serve to disintegrate the wounded body politic.

While we can’t agree on systemic solutions, we do agree on cause and effect. The nation cannot afford not to make hard choices. Digital technology, board room financial contributions bundling, and fatally flawed trade agreements have made it possible for companies to take their businesses anywhere and the sad fact is that loyalty to global shareholders often does not translate into domestic economic patriotism. The health, safety and security of the American people must remain our primal political litmus test and this can only come about when elected politicians from both parties understand, no matter their partisan approaches to climate change, that we operate in a global environment where Copernicus and Galileo were right and Ptolemy was wrong. The politics of the “best government money can buy” which distort any level playing field and protect the privileged few at the expense of the burdened many as a central facet of domestic political culture within a multifaceted rotating universe of infinite power centers, has led to extremely dangerous income inequality and structural unemployment stagnation. Outsourcing, off-shoring, and foreclosing while protecting relative profit flow control for boardrooms and shareholders wherever they may be have perfected a race to the bottom economy of cheapest labor and worst pollution standards for our fellow working class neighbors. This highly hypocritical bad trip to nowhere has got to stop.

What’s missing is that any race back to the top has got to start with regaining local community and worker sovereignty. Democratic capitalism means that labor is sovereign to capital which while necessary is subordinate in nature instead of the reverse as currently practiced. The American worker is not a commodity to be sold as chattel by others but rather an infinitely valuable natural and national renewing resource. Small business innovation and job creation not only represent the nation’s tried and truly quickest path to wealth generation as the President acknowledged last night but also represent the backbone of America’s emerging stakeholder economy. In a nation of immigrants who mostly left parts of Europe but also Africa and Asia searching for land ownership as a way to turn class and caste-condemned serfdom and slavery into frontier nobility and mobility… these tired, poor, and huddled mass immigrants yearning to breathe free who built the American Dream into a universal icon with home ownership as the undisputed tall pole in the tent now clamor for a national reset.

The country is angry, frustrated, and insisting on meta-politics vice the current partisan strain, with a new mandate to enlarge the formula instead of demeaning, betraying, and reducing its promise. Henry Ford got it right when he raised his workers’ salaries so that they could afford to buy the products they were building and become an enterprise self-fulfilling prophecy. Now, in this season of our unemployed discontent, workers need to own their factories so that, like the German manufacturing and Mondragon cooperative models, our national industrial ethos grows deeper without arbitrary and financially manipulated uprooting. The time has come for workplace ownership to join land ownership and home ownership as the three, triangular and unalienable vertices in the impossible-to-break-or-bust promise of America. A time to grow and a time to grow-up.