Four More Years, With Head Held High
Four years ago, between the summer of 2008 and the spring of 2009, about 30% of my clients went out of business. Most of these clients were directly or indirectly related to the commercial and residential building industry, but all of the other industries I catered to suffered as well.
People tend to forget this now, but at the time commercial lenders had become so distrustful of their own credit evaluation models that they refused to lend money to any businesses; better for them to sit on whatever money they still had, ride out the storm, and then claim the remaining assets of their failing clients. As they did so, the builders and suppliers that were my clients closed up shop, one by one, turning over half-completed buildings and business parks to the very banks that had sold them on the idea of borrowing their month-to-month cash flow to leverage greater production.
Clients of mine that were large social service agencies saw both government money and private donations dry up almost overnight. They remained both legally and ethically bound to the children, elderly and developmentally disabled adults under their care. But after months of depleted income streams many did not have the cash to pay employees, mortgages, rents and – sometimes – utilities. Faced with the very real possibility of legal or criminal action for not providing for those under their legal stewardship, a few executive directors I knew put some of those bills on their personal credit cards. One of those directors was later forced to file for personal bankruptcy because of it.
Blue chip companies had inexplicably lobbied for – and received – a dismantling of regulations which allowed them to essentially buy insurance policies on companies that they had no insurable interest in from organizations that did not even bother pretending to have enough capital to make payment should a claim ever occur. Still, these “credit default swaps” became all the rage because they made each blue chip company’s financial statement look better than it actually was, which allowed bonuses to be paid out to all the right people. You would think that everyone would have been concerned about an unfunded system that connected the survival of one blue chip to the survival of all the others, but you’d be wrong. Everyone knew it was a foolproof plan, because the only way the house of cards would ever collapse would be if a blue chip actually failed – and everyone knew blue chips could not fail. Except that, four years ago, some of them did.
My own industry of risk management looks at almost everything from the “long-game” point of view, and so we all kept reminding each other that no matter how hard things were at the moment, the pendulum would eventually swing back and prosperity would return. It always does; it is the way of things. It was just that no one, not even the old timers, had ever personally witnessed anything quite as dire as what we were watching unfold before our eyes.
So when Mitt Romney, FOX News, and all the other Republican pundits and politicians rhetorically ask over and over if I think we’re better off today than we were four years ago, my response is this:
You’re f**king kidding me, right?
After what seems like a life-sucking eternity, this presidential election cycle is finally – finally – drawing to a close. If somehow elections have anthropomorphic feelings, I hope this one’s aren’t hurt too badly when I say “don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out the door.” It was with great pleasure that I filled out my ballot last night, though the pleasure had more to do with being done with it all than the warm glow of fulfilling my birthright as a citizen. And so…
This seems like as good a time as any for me to state my case for why I’ll be voting for Barack Obama to get another four years as this country’s Commander in Chief.
First off, let me say that I am actually voting for Barack Obama; I am not voting against Mitt Romney. Despite fine arguments from Elias, I still maintain that Mitt would actually make a fine president. Count me as one of those people that see him as a moderate that errs on the side of ambition. In the unlikely event of a Romney win I have no doubt that his one and only priority will be reelection, and that will mean playing to the middle – he’ll know the right isn’t going to abandon him and allow Hilary to win in ’16. Some here have argued that, hey, he’s made promises to the far-right wackos, and if he wins he’ll feel obligated to make good on those promises no matter how radical and unpopular they are. To that I say: Really? Have you seen Mitt Romney? And if he is elected, chalk him up as an easy two-termer. The economy is coming steadily back, even if it is doing so slowly. In four years middle class voters will be fat and happy regardless of who is in power, and that will put whichever party controls the White House in the catbird seat.
That being said, I’ll be voting for Obama – and I won’t be holding my nose doing so. The truth is that by and large he’s done exactly what I would have wanted him to do, and then some. The scandals that are paraded in front of me by the opposition are mostly ones that I find either uninteresting (Benghazi, 5 of 63 government funded alternative-energy companies failing), uncompelling (the Fast & Furious scheme to take our guns, giving up spies to the enemy) or unhinged (Obama hates Olympians, Obama was born in Kenya, Obama is trying to form a Hitler Youth program, Obama killed Andrew Breitbart, and, let’s face it, pretty much everything else). On the negative side of the ledger side, he has not been transparent, he’s tried to expand executive power and he’s associated himself with Washington insiders. But since these same things are true of everyone in my lifetime before him (and will undoubtedly be true of the ones to come after) they aren’t big deal breakers for me.
The truth is that Barack Obama probably won my vote on March 20, 2010, when he gave a talk to House Democrats and successfully urged them to pass a poorly conceived bill that I did not support.
As long as I have been of voting age, there have been three political hot potatoes that both sides have agreed threatened our long-term national solvency: social security, dependence on fossil fuel and the 50 year exponential growth of healthcare costs. Every single presidential candidate I have ever seen has addressed each of these items while campaigning; each has promised that they would make the tough political decisions to “do something,” even at the expense of their being reelected. And in all of these decades, every single one of these candidates went on to stick their head in the sand and pretend these problems didn’t exist once they were elected.
Until this one.
I’ve written about my objections to the PPACA many times before here. It will help the uninsured and it will temporarily drive health insurance premiums down significantly, but it doesn’t adequately address the exponential cost increases inherent in our system. It’s only half a recipe for success, and as such it punts part of the solution downfield in the hopes that someone else will be willing to pick up the ball. When all is said and done, it’s only a first step.
But it is a first step, and despite the fact that every president and presidential candidate since Nixon has admitted a first step needed to be taken, he’s the only one that’s had the cojones to take it.
I remember, hours after after PPACA’s passage, reading about his talk to the House Democrats the day before the vote. It looked very much at the time like the bill was going to fail. Well-publicized town hall meeting mêlées had congress critters scared, and they looked like they were going to bolt to better their reelection chances. Obama told them that moments like this were exactly why they had gotten into politics long ago, before they sold their blackened souls and had their hearts turn to dust. (I may be paraphrasing just a tad here.) Wasn’t fixing this perennial problem worth losing the next election, he asked? If you could look back later and know that this was why you had been knocked back into the private sector, wouldn’t it be worth it? And so they voted for it, and many did indeed lose their jobs for having done so. And come November 6, Obama might well join their ranks.
That, to me, is the kind of leadership I want in a President. All my life, I’ve sworn that if a President would just take a stand to fix a problem when it wasn’t politically prudent, he would earn my vote; I’m not about to break that promise to myself now.
And if Obama won my vote that day in 2010, he cemented it on May 10 of this year when he came out in support of same sex marriage. All the smart money was on his waiting until after November, since it wasn’t like the gays and lesbians were threatening to line up behind Romney. Instead, he surprised just about everyone by doing what, for me at least, was the right thing.
I understand that for a lot of conservatives, attempting to fix the healthcare crisis and supporting the gays are reasons to vote against Obama. And because I read the blogs, I understand that for progressives these points simply show up as a way that allow them to pull that level while holding their nose. For me, though, they’re enough. In fact, they’re more than enough; they’re more than any other president I’ve lived to see.
The one notable exception being George W. Bush who, once reelected, immediately pledged to fix social security – and then backed down when the Karl Rove and the GOP complained attempting to do so might cost them future votes and donations. By doing so, Bush went from a President I did not like very much to one I was thrilled had won reelection, and then to one I downright despised for spinelessness – all in the space of about three weeks.