Malaise or Dysfunction?
We find ourselves in a national funk, and not the George Clinton/Parliament Funkadelic kind of funk. If you don't get the reference, run a Google search on George Clinton or download Give Up The Funk, Atomic Dog, or Flashlight.
If you still don't get it, give up, it's over for you.
The American funk is driven by a total lack of confidence in our national leadership. It seems as though most Americans, at least 75% according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll, feel that our political leaders are headed in the wrong direction.
This leadership failure seems immune to partisanship. While the president's approval ratings have plummeted, so have the ratings of both parties in the U.S. Congress. We look for leadership in times of challenge, but all we see in Washington is finger-pointing, excuse-making and blame-assignment.
This summer of our discontent is fueled by several factors. Examples include the failure to resolve the debt crisis with a permanent political solution, costly ongoing military conflicts in terrorist-haven countries with relatively low potential for good outcomes, and the international economic slide.
Anarchist-driven riots in London remind us of the images from social justice-civil disturbances from our own past. It starts out as a cry for socio-economic fairness, but ends up with guys stealing 42" flat screen televisions and new basketball sneakers.
Some fear the forces that fuel the London disturbances might leap the Atlantic and end up in our big cities. Progressive pundits mention the tinderbox of emotion that feeds the frustration of the working poor. If the U.S. government continues to cut social programs, pundits like Harvard University's Dr. Cornel West predict a backlash in the urban population.
Maybe they're actually hoping for that. It's possible for a skeptic to envision the progressive movement secretly wishing for images of broken windows and burning façades to lend credence to a call for massive public investment and more government hand-outs.
Conversely, conservatives who justify the huge and historic increases in CEO pay and Wall Street profits while an increasing number of Americans struggle just to find work is equally inexplicable.
No argument makes sense if it starts and ends with the premise that the ultra-wealthy should be sheltered from higher taxes, or that corporate tax rates require major loopholes to protect the company from paying more in taxes than the middle income employees of their own corporations.
So, where are the real leaders in this time of need?
Vacation, it seems, is the place to fiddle while America burns.
President Barack Obama is planning to depart on his annual 2-week trip to Martha's Vineyard. Everyone deserves a vacation, time to wind down and spend precious time with family. No one deserves that more than the president.
Any job that ages you twice as fast as the normal aging process should include a generous paid vacation.
That said, tough people make tough decisions to deal with tough problems.
In London, Prime Minister David Cameron returned from his extended summer vacation and summoned the British Parliament to deal with the riots. French President Nicholas Sarkozy suspended a trip to the south of France to grapple with the French economy.
Members of the U.S. Congress are also off on their month-long August recess, having rushed to pass a debt limit extension intended to inspire confidence in the stock market and international investors.
It did neither.
The roller-coaster ride on the Dow Jones Industrial Average over the past week – and uncertainty in the weeks ahead – should send a clear message that the confidence boost came up short.
Wall Street takes no comfort in the shift of burden to decide from the White House and Congress to a "super committee" within the Congress. The assignment of six senators and six representatives of both parties to magically do what President Obama and all 535 members of Congress just failed to do inspires confidence in no one.
All sides are equally intractable; in fact they're probably more entrenched now than they were two months ago. Of course, we don't know that for sure, because they're all on vacation.
We probably won't get Winston Churchill out of Barack Obama. The cigar-chomping hero of World War II – and arguably the best example of leadership under fire – was not a compromiser born of the legislative process.
He was a military man, known for bullying an opponent into submission through sheer force of will.
President Obama is best on the stump, rallying voters and donors with high-toned rhetoric and flowery vocabulary. In a fight, he seems best at knowing when to yield.
That sort of leadership won't get us where we need to be, and is definitely not the leadership style we need to pull an economy back from the brink. We need a Ronald Reagan-type, a tough-talking, confident spokesman who can stare down his antagonists and inspire investment in our economy.
That person is not currently in our federal government, and looking at the field of potential 2012 candidates, isn't even on the horizon for Republicans or Democrats.
We need a virtual political miracle to drag us out of our collective funk.
Lacking that miracle, just put on your headphones and play some George Clinton. Maybe we can drown out our political funk with the real thing!