Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

27 February 2011

Fathers and Fire


How do you teach your children that fire burns? Parents have had to answer that question since the dawn of civilization, which has always relied on fire in one form or another.

Each parent has answered it in his or her own way. But most have found that experience is the best teacher. So they try to insure that the burns are at worst first degree, and not third.

As clear as day, I recall my own childhood learning experience. Our family had a waffle iron with a jewel-like faceted piece of glass. Its function was to let you see the red-glowing heating elements inside. That glass jewel looked so pretty, glowing red with light reflected from the heater. My mother warned me, but I thought I could touch it quickly enough not to feel the pain. I was wrong. The pain and my own howls taught me something about humility and degrees of heat.

Like everyone else, I often try to second-guess the President. At least twice, I have been wrong. So experience has taught me to respect his wisdom. At times (1 and 2) he has struck me as the only adult in the room. The more I think of how the President is responding to the “shellacking” last November, the more I think of fathers and fire.

No matter how imperfect our democracy may be, we the people, collectively, still hold plenty of power. No one―least of all a President still distrusted for his extraordinary erudition and his race―can lead us where we don’t want to go. And it was we the people, not the President, who elected the tidal wave of know-nothing newbies in the House.

The latest poll shows the state of our childish delusion. By large margins, we want to invest in education and health care. But by equally large margins, we don’t want to have to pay for them. We want a functioning society, but we want it all for ourselves.

This sorry state of mind is not the fault of John Boehner, Fox, or the GOP, although all helped create it and are exploiting it for political gain. It is our own fault. We are the children who need to grow up.

So as I watch the President jockey with the GOP to avoid a disastrous government shutdown that might throw us back into recession, I can’t help but think of fathers and fire. What minimum amount of pain will teach us the lesson that we need to know?

Obama is, above all, a realist. Unlike his predecessor, he moved to the center when he realized that we the people were not following his lead. He knows he cannot lead where we won’t follow. He knows that far too many of us are still looking for a free lunch. And he knows that we, not he, elected a frat-boy naysayer, whose sole and consistent contribution to public life has been to reject others’ ideas, as Speaker of the House.

The President knows we are going to have to touch that flame. The only question is how painful the experience will be.

So expect the economic pain to continue and maybe get worse. And hope it teaches us without permanent injury. That’s all any president or any parent can do.

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