As we look at the year ahead, The political rhetoric will heat up as we move toward the November midterm elections. Democrats will continue to blame the previous administration and try to force their way forward in Congress. Republicans will proclaim themselves the alternative to big, inefficient government and call on the voters to oust the "Beltway insiders" in Washington, D.C.
The script is so predictable and it solves nothing. If the economy is improving, The Democrats may keep their majority, though it will be reduced. If there are serious economic or foreign crises, the Republicans may roar back into some power, just like 1994. Neither of these scenarios bode well for the American people.
There are two mistakes all politicians are making. These mistakes also present two opportunities for leaders to rise above the partisanship that everyone decries but no one can seem to avoid.
Mistake Number One: Politicians forget that the money they spend is not "theirs" or "the government's". It comes from real people producing products and services and paying taxes. Democrats want to deliver resources to the poor and working class. That is noble, but endless deficit spending and inflationary policies will dry up those resources and bankrupt the future. Republicans talk a good game about balancing the budget, but no Republican administration in the last 40 years has succeeded in curbing spending and increasing efficiency.
Opportunity Number One: 2010 leaders need to speak about private-public partnerships, local, regional and state solutions to many challenges instead of one more program form Washington D.C. Health care is a moral obligation - let's deliver it creatively and personally instead of through a massive set of regulations that our lawmakers have not read. I would be more sanguine about current bills if the Senators themselves will live under their regulations!
Mistake Number Two: Conservatives complain about the incipient socialism of the current administration. I share the same concerns; however, protesting bad policy is not the same as proposing workable solutions to real problems. Conservatives forget that there are millions who need work and in the meantime need help. We can reduce our military expenditures and invest at home without sacrificing our security. A few less troops in EU countries will not inflame Muslim militants. We must rebuild public infrastructure and fund education more intelligently. We need to graduate women and men from college without debt instead of artificially propping up over-bloated administrations with loan money.
Opportunity Number Two: 2010 leaders need to communicate the outcomes, strategies and costs of what they propose. We can solve our problems with the money we have and we can start reversing the deficits and arrest the control of hostile forces over our economy. This means NO earmarks, NO unnecessary pork from Washington, D.C. to the local district. This also means no fat for the military contractors and fewer grants for marginal research. It means that some artists will have to fund their own work and that more money stay in local and state coffers.
Life is not a zero-sum game with one pizza for seven billion people to share. We have the ingenuity and resources to create prosperous and sustainable conditions for all, if we will unleash creativity instead of giving in to fear. We need to help people create wealth instead of taxing it to death. Conversely, we need to accept our ethical obligation to help the poor and improve our public life. We need statesmanship and strategic vision, not governmental ownership.
The opportunities are present. I hope we find the courage to chart a different course.