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As someone who has spent a long career in the business world, confronting problems and solving them, I find that there’s something surreal about two weeks of political conventions in a nation that faces very big problems – and desperately needs effective solutions.
In the business world, when people are attacking each other, hurling accusations and leveling blame, the first thing a leader has to do is put a stop to that. In such an environment, it is extremely difficult to devise solutions, and it is almost impossible to implement them effectively.
Today’s political environment is exactly what I just described on a 24/7 basis. It is a never-ending war on words. And this is a war that no one wins.
This is not going to be one of those columns where the writer tries to appear above the fray by blaming both sides equally and pretends not to be taking sides. Get real. You know perfectly well that I support Mitt Romney and I oppose Barack Obama. You’ve read my criticisms of Obama’s policies in this space and others. I am not decrying all criticism because a) it is a healthy part of our system of government and b) I engage in it as much as anyone.
But there’s a difference between honest criticism and simply saying anything you have to say for the sake of your own power. This is the phenomenon that was on display at the Democrats’ convention in Charlotte, and it was astounding.
Consider the fact that the Democrats apparently have decided the word “voucher” can be used in a negative way to hang a political anvil around Republicans. Repeatedly, they attacked Republicans for wanting to replace Medicare with what they call “Vouchercare.” What made this so appalling was not the mere fact that there’s nothing wrong with a voucher, which is simply premium support that seniors can use to purchase their own insurance. No, what made this so appalling is the fact that, even as the Democrats were tossing this word around as if it were a euphemism for a concentration camp roundup, the Obama administration itself was in the process of moving 2 million seniors into vouchers as a pilot program designed to improve Medicare.
In other words, they don’t even mean what they say. They simply say it because it’s tested well with focus groups or something. Attack vouchers and land blows against Republicans. You know it’s total bull, but it works.
Another example is their constant use of the phrase “middle class,” usually accompanied by a denunciation of “tax cuts for millionaires.” You’d think, to listen to these guys, that the middle class was doing great under them – since they warn darkly of its fate in the event of a Republican victory. In fact, middle class incomes have fallen by more than $4,000 per household since Obama took office. The people who constantly drone on about the middle class have nothing to offer the middle class. But the words sure sound good.
Republicans can be susceptible to the same thing. They spent a lot of time at their convention attacking out-of-control federal spending – and rightly so. But they did that in 1994, and were handed control of Congress by voters who agreed with them. The Republican Congresses of the 1990s did control spending for awhile, which is why we got the balanced budgets that Bill Clinton attributes to his own excellence in arithmetic. But by the time we hit the new millennium, congressional Republicans had discovered that they liked spending too – and pretty soon fiscal discipline was a thing of the past. Yet here they are in 2012, saying the same words. It might win them the election. And if it does – and they remain mere words – no one will have won.
It’s easy to blame this on political consultants who poll-test every theme and concept and put it before focus groups to see how it will play. It’s easy to blame the shallow news media, which cover the horse race and the strategy of every campaign as if there’s no such thing as governing after the election.
But ultimately, it’s the candidates who choose to follow these strategies, using these words to get elected knowing full well that they don’t mean what they’re saying.
This country is in big trouble. The national debt, now at $16 trillion, is more than our entire gross domestic product. Our unfunded entitlement obligations run into the hundreds of trillions. We have 15 percent of the population on food stamps. We have 15 percent of the population either unemployed or underemployed. And the federal government is spending a quarter of our GDP every year in a futile attempt to somehow fix all this. It is not working.
Under these circumstances, it is absolutely mandatory that the nation turn to leaders who are serious about solutions, serious about honest data and willing to give it to us straight about the nation’s situation. It is still possible to fix this mess, but it can’t be done by people who are not serious, dishonest and willing to say absolutely anything to remain in power.
In the business world, you need to understand facts, test your ideas and be honest about when solutions to problems are not working. Otherwise you will never make the necessary adjustments. People who do this are respected, because they are the ones who ultimately get results. Those who are out of ideas and offer nothing more than the same ideas that have already failed are fired. Sometimes, if they have integrity, they recognize that they are not the right people for the job and they step aside to make room for more competent leadership.
That’s why business leaders solve problems but the political class never does. And it’s ultimately the responsibility of the voters not to put up with this nonsense. If our only response to the very real problems facing this nation is a war of words, people need to understand that is a war no one wins.