Friday, December 21, 2007

Why are we writing checks our grandchildren can't cash?

With the amount of money we've been spending, you'd think we'd have a little more to show for it. Better roads, schools, healthcare, something. Because right now, our national debt is approaching $9 TRILLION dollars. That's a lot of zeroes and it sure as hell is a lot of interest — somewhere in the neighborhood of $400+ billion annually to be exact.

Since George W. Bush has been in office, this shared tab of ours has gone up a staggering $3 trillion (for perspective, the ENTIRE debt never reached $4 trillion when his old man was in charge.) Why is this? Because we've had to pay for little line items like the war in Iraq and tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% of Americans. What gets me though is that of all the issues on the table, all the flubs this guy's made, this one seems to get the least amount of attention. People, he turned a budget surplus into a budget sinkhole. If this was a business, the CEO would have been shown the door a long time ago. And that rapidly accruing interest I just mentioned? It's not being paid to banks in this country. It's going to foreign lenders, like China, Japan and Saudi Arabia.

Contrary to popular belief, this isn't Monopoly money. It's cold, hard cash and the vig is running. Yet we don't seem to give a second thought to what this might mean for future generations. They may very well wake up one day to the realization that they don't own their own country anymore. We'll have gone from the richest nation in the world back to being somebody else’s colony.

So what do we do? Simple. It starts with sacrifice. We cut out programs we don't need. We stop spending money we don't have. We don't back tax cuts we can't afford. We quit putting billions into pork barrel projects. And we start slowly paying down that debt. We've done it before. We can do it again.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Name your team: A challenge to the presidential candidates

Knowing what I do about the importance of a good team, I’m baffled about the way we run presidential campaigns as though they were one man (or one woman) bands. As I consider the ever-growing list of presidential candidates I have to wonder: who are their teams? Doesn’t it strike you as a little bit strange that we don’t demand that a presidential candidate introduce his key players before we vote? Who’s going to be running foreign policy? Defense? The Justice Department? Everyone acts like it’s such a big secret, and that’s a little scary. Can’t they at least give us a hint?

For example, would it make a difference to primary voters if they knew that Rudy Giuliani was planning to make Bernie Kerik Secretary of Defense if he won the White House? How about if Hillary Clinton wanted to bring Madeline Albright out of retirement as Secretary of State? What if John McCain thought Joe Lieberman would make a great Attorney General? These suggestions may seem wild, but who knows? The point is, we don't know. And that's a big problem.

The myth of the solitary hero riding to the rescue is still pretty strong in this country. But if we’ve learned nothing else from George Bush’s presidency, we’ve learned that it matters whom a president surrounds himself with. The key players on his team—Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Gonzalez—have made a huge difference. Some people think they’ve been the most influential gang in White House history. It’s fair to say that without Cheney and Rumsfeld, we probably wouldn’t be in Iraq. Yet back in 2000, when Bush was first running for president, he acted like the Lone Ranger. You may recall that Cheney was actually the guy in charge of vetting Bush’s possible vice presidential candidates. Cheney interviewed them, studied their strengths and weaknesses, and finally presented Bush with his verdict. The best person for the job was... Cheney!

I strongly believe that if the voters are going to make an informed decision about who will be our next president, we need more information about the other players. So here’s my proposal. In the next debate, the candidates should be asked the following: “If elected, who will be your vice president, secretary of state, secretary of defense, and attorney general? And if you haven’t made up your mind, give us the short list for each position.” This should also be asked whenever a candidate appears in public, whenever he or she gives an interview, whenever there’s a discussion about foreign policy or domestic issues.

Being president is a pretty tall order. It’s not a job you can do alone. We have a right to know before we cast our vote for president who’s going to be responsible for actually getting the job done.