The difference between a politician and a statesman is the breadth of their horizons. But have we ever seen people with horizons as limited as our modern Congress? Of course their ratings are low – we return their judgment of us. They think we have no sense of deferred gratification; they think we are children – and not very bright, not very disciplined children at that. We return the compliment.
They argue that much was not foreseen in the War; well, certainly, that is true. That mistakes were made by many – from Bush to Rumsfeld to men in the field – is true. It also should not be surprising. What seems to me more surprising is that a war is expected to unfold in a series of brilliant maneuvers, all ending in a victory. And that a country is expected to move from tyranny to democracy in a series of graceful and quick steps – always two steps forward and never a step backward. Perhaps it is even more surprising that a group of people would assume that oil prices can be lowered with a few threats.
Nancy Pelosi has numerous grandchildren. Did she assume that after a midnight romp with her husband that the next day she would be delivered of a bouncing baby? And a week later, that child would move out of the house? My business partners called me on the carpet because we were not making a profit at the end of the first month. Certainly, I was not and did not become a great businesswoman. But the business survived and helped support us for another dozen years. It took a few years to build a strong customer base. And I was never sorry I bought them out soon after that meeting.
Building a democracy surely takes longer than building a customer base. John Adams remarked that it was good that time had elapsed and that people had been able to argue out the reasons for the revolution – at taverns and town meetings, across their yards and in their churches. While dawdling and diddling is not a good sign, neither is hurry. The Democrats repeated complaints that the Iraqis are not building their government fast enough seems belied by the number of “goals” that have been met. But it is a false goal anyway; it is not speed but quality that we want in their government – and they should want.
Surely an argument that if we start opening up Anwr, shale fields and coastal drilling that no oil will come online for years is hardly an argument. We know that. I live amidst oil wells that do little to pollute and take up little space. The new ones take up less. I’ve long thought the positions on ANWR, etc. were silly. But, frankly, with gas a dollar a gallon, it didn’t seem that big a deal. I suspect a lot of people are like me. It isn’t that their positions have changed, they’ve just begun to care. And listening to the arguments that we can’t drill our way out of the problem can be enraging. Sure, renewables are a good idea. Algae, solar, wind, whatever – okay, any of them may, in the end, work. But, of course, for the time being, we can drill our way out. That is, we can bring oil on line within a relatively short period of time; beginning to bring it on line will temper the speculators far more sensibly than demonizing them. (And exactly what do they expect manufacturers dependent on oil to do? Surely a good businessman doesn’t leave his business completely at the mercy of the vagaries of a marketplace on which Congress – and people like Chavez – exert irregular and unpredictable forces?)
I am amazed at the news every night – our politicians seem to have neither patience nor perseverance when it comes to time frames, they seem to have neither maturity nor common sense when it comes to their ability to factor in variables. What war was run on a time table? In what economy were all factors considered? And in whose life were ambitions clearly matched with accomplishments, planned out decades before?
I suspect we should be grateful to our founding fathers. Despite their false starts and heated disagreements, despite the fact that they left out solving the great tragic questions that would lead so many to their deaths eighty years later, despite. . . – well, they did have wide horizons. They were not blinded by ideology; they thought that their responsibilities required them to think, to look as far into the future as they could, to compromise and to stand on principle – most of all, to get something done that would last. They respected their audience and their audience’s children. I would love to vote for someone who thinks voters like me are worthy of the level of the arguments of Madison and Hamilton. But I (and the rest of us) must not be worthy. It’s not what we’ve got.
The irony of people who can’t pass bills in the sturdy walls of Congress but who complain about the recalcitrance of the Iraqi government seems lost on the people we’ve voted to represent us. We hear complaints that we can’t drill our way out of energy dependence and $4/gallon gas – that ANWR or oil shale or offshore drilling will take years to come on line. Does this surprise us? Their constituents are grown ups – people who realize that we don’t get what we want the minute we voice our needs, that life is made up of a series of variables and patience is often required. We don’t need Burns to tell us our best laid plans are likely to “gang awry.” After all, neither we nor our children are likely to end up with the same major with which we began college and are likely to find a career we hadn’t even imagined ten years before. Life happens.
We stick out marriages and jobs and school because most things worth getting are worth sticking out – a good mate, a successful career, children of whom we are proud and with whom we can take pleasure. But none of these are as we imagined they would be. Our pleasures and triumphs as well as our sorrows and failures are not ones we could predict. Still, few of us start a business thinking the profits will begin rolling in the next day, few of us expect to be handed a diploma as soon as we settle on a major. But most of us do try to plan our futures and prepare for our childrens’ futures. Most Americans have retirement plans, think about their futures, set up wills – we don’t think that the only important moment is now nor do we think we’ll live forever. We do think we have some responsibility to consider a time frame beyond that of our own lives, needs beyond those of this moment or even one a year or two ahead. That we are being led by people who seem to think only in terms of the next election is an insult to our maturity.