Opinion » Maxed Out

Maxed out

Choosing our leaders



The end came mercifully quick and early. Seconds after the polls closed in California, newscasters who seemed on the edge of bursting called the game. Hope triumphed over fear.

I can check electing a black man president off my List of Things I Probably Won�t Live Long Enough to See.

I don�t know what kind of president Obama will be. I don�t know what kind of congress the Democrats will run. I�ll try to keep my hard-earned cynicism in check because, at least for the moment, hope kicked cynicism�s butt and a new generation, the next generation, has dodged what could have easily been a very large, cynical bullet. With good luck and hard work, they�ll keep dodging it and the people they helped elect will do a better job governing than has been done for way too long now.

I don�t know when Obama will stop campaigning and start leveling with my American brothers and sisters, tell then what they know � the party�s over � and tell them what they suspect: now it�s time to pay the bills. And I don�t have a clue how they�ll react to it. Most of us have lived most of our lives under a fantasy doctrine that taught us we can have much of what we want right now and leave paying for it to future generations. While individual bad choices and bad luck led many to the state of financial ruin they�re not enjoying today, they were just living on an individual scale what they saw being played out on a national scale: buy now, pay, whenever.

Economic theorists were the codependents in this psychotic dance with debt, assuring both leaders and followers that deficits don�t matter. Perhaps not in the short run. But as a policy spanning decades they bring to mind the admonition of the late Illinois senator, Everett Dirksen, �A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you�re talking real money.� In this case, over 10 trillion dollars of real money.

But the hoped-for future Obama�s been peddling for the last two years is a future less weighted down by dogmatic ideology. He doesn�t believe government to be the evil beast the Republican party, particularly in its neo-conservative incarnation, dismantled but as an institution to channel the collective good. He doesn�t see his job as neutering government; he sees it as making government work again for more than just the self-interested players with an inside track. Don�t frankly know if that�s naive or hopeful.

But it helps frame the question we have to answer for our little corner of the world in a week and a couple of days. Who will we hand the levers of power � such as it is � over to?