A Call for the Leadership We Deserve (Patrick Balke)

28 Dec

As the fiscal cliff talks have ground to a halt and draggedprogress on all other fronts with it, I couldn’t help but be struck by two contrasting articles at the top of the New York Times homepage tonight.  On the far left, the headline read “In Flurry of Activity, Only Muted Hope for Fiscal Deal” and on the right hand side was an editorial entitled “Time to Confront Climate Change.”  The former describes the near impossibility of Congress passing any sort of agreement to avert the fiscal cliff before the tax hikes and spending cuts go into effect.  The latter describes the near impossibility of Congress passing any legislation that would mitigate the effects of climate change and then proposes the incremental, and highly controversial, steps President Obama could take on his own.  My opinions on both the fiscal cliff and global climate change are for another piece; right now, the reason why these two articles stuck out to me, andthe question that rose to my mind, is: if this Congress is so incompetent that it cannot agree to prevent middle class taxes from rising until after the deadline, how can we expect them to agree on anything to fight climate change, or any matter of severe importance, until after its severest of effects have been felt?

This Congress has known of the fiscal cliff and its deadline for over a year.  Likewise, the nation has known of climate change for decades, and has felt its initial effects at least since Hurricane Katrina but more recently in Hurricane Sandy.  There has been wide agreement that without action on the fiscal cliff, there will be detrimental effects on the economy, beginning with market volatility and receding consumer confidence, moving toward declining take home pay from the expiring payroll tax cuts, then spreading throughout the economy the longer the failure to reach an agreement lasts, overcoming the still-nascent, although strengthening, recovery, as the spending cuts begin to take effect throughout 2013 and taxes on everyone rise.   Likewise, climate change has been shown by widely agreed upon science, denied only by fossil-fuel funded pseudoscience, to be highly dangerous if no solution is reached: rising seas will displace low-lying coastal regions (think New York City, New Orleans, much of Florida, etc.); further, rising temperatures will make storms, droughts, and species extinction more severe and frequent where they occur.  These are problems we have known about and whose effects have been explained thoroughly to those in power in this country.  Solutions, however, have never seemed further out of reach.  If there is a solution, it will most likely be agreed to after the deadline, and will not even touch the underlying problems of the economy, such as the need for tax reform and a refocusing of budget priorities.  In the meantime, market confidence in this economy and this government can only wane, mistrust of the government’s ability to do anything can only rise, and real damage, no matter how mild, will be done.

That the fiscal cliff solution, if ever reached, will occur after the deadline does not bode well for the capabilities of this current set of leadership in Congress, Republicans and Democrats, to face climate change, and the broader problems facing our nation.  This laziness, this inability to seize the bull by the horns and take the initiative, to solve problems before they evolve into crises, to “not merely endure,” but to prevail, as Faulkner put it, is the most troubling trait in this country.  We as a country face the twin realities of ever-mounting challenges, on the one hand,and, on the other, the greatest capabilities ever known, combined with the creativity, ingenuity, and spirit of the American people,to face them. Yet, our leaders in Congress prove time and again inept to demonstrate the courage that is needed to find a way to reach an agreement before the clock has stopped.  Anyone who has ever read Profiles in Courage can tell you that there have been people in this nation’s history willing to risk their entire political survival in the pursuit of their duty, in attempts to move this nation forward and represent the American experiment as best they could.  This Congress, however, has no such members, only trite yearnings for the “good ole days of bipartisanship” while members, content to merely endure, to survive politically while their country’s future remains in doubt, cannot bring themselves to do anything other than last-ditch schemes to avoid the worst case scenario.  How can we tackle climate change before it destroys our coastline if our leaders cannot even agree to extend huge tax cuts to 98% of Americans? Do we have to wait till Florida is six feet under to do something about it? It is not just climate change, it is every problem facing America: no solution will be found to any problem unless there is a firm deadline that Congress can ignore till the last few days and reach a last ditch agreement afterwards to treat the symptoms of their failure, not the disease underlying the problem.

If we are to prevail, if we are to meet not only the simple challenges like the fiscal cliff but the broader ones, like climate change or restoring the American Dream or confronting the deficit, it will not be under this leadership.  We can do this, as Faulkner says, through “compassion and sacrifice and endurance.” The American people, as always, have demonstrated these traits, in spite of incompetence in Washington.  The continued spirit of hard-work, rejuvenation, charity, and determination that can be seen in every community across America is a testament to the truth of these words.  The re-election of Obama demonstrated that the American people are done with do-nothing leadership that panders to our divisions,and ready for leadership that calls upon these traits to help rebuild America and face the broader challenges that plague us.  Most of all, as the fiscal cliff problem and the shadow of broader problems like climate change illuminate, we as Americans need to call on a new generation of leaders to break through the incompetence that results in these failures and reflect these traits.  We need leaders that see that the American people are miles ahead of Congress and are capable of rebuilding this nation into one greater than ever before seen, if only there were leadership that realizes that sitting idly and waiting for a problem to become a crisis before a solution is found is not just dumb, it’s un-American.


One Response to “A Call for the Leadership We Deserve (Patrick Balke)”


  1. Facts on the Ground (D Balke) « The Meeting Place - December 29, 2012

    […] is difficult to find fault in Patrick’s argument (see his Dec. 28 post A Call for the Leadership We Deserve) that Congressional dysfunction renders the body unable to tackle the immense and growing challenges […]

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