Like you, I can’t help but read and listen to the political posturing taking place these days as we head in to this year’s pivotal elections. But as you try to validate the points being made you have to draw from your own past experiences in order to keep things in perspective. Let’s face it, Americans are a self-centered lot. We want what we want, and more than anything what we always want is to be on the winning side.
The basic concept of “winning at all costs” has been both a major asset and a motivator for our country and at the same time has been the destructive flaw that keeps our nation from achieving its ultimate potential. What we profess to be as a nation has all too often been compromised by our individual selfish interests. When America’s Declaration of Independence and Constitution were drafted, despite serious deliberation, we just couldn’t part with slavery, thus forcing its resolution on to future generations to resolve in a bloody civil war. Of course the Civil War itself, the length, destruction and cost of life was the end result of each side’s absolute certainty of what they perceived as righteous. Looking back today, more than 150 years later, most would acknowledge the “right” won out, but how might we view life today had Lee been victorious at Gettysburg and the South won their independence from the Union?
Several issues flying about the country and the campaigns now need to be dissected and filtered through the lens of yesterday to better understand their impact today. Recently we heard about the third city in California, San Bernardino, to declare financial bankruptcy in the last two weeks, and the city of Scranton, Pa., was forced to reduce all employees to minimum wage. At a time when revenues were more plentiful and growth seemed endless, hiring, wages, benefits and city projects had no limits. Workers rightfully wanted and demanded their fair share. No one wanted to leave dollars on the table, but no one could foresee the future. Winning the best labor contract for their members was the goal for the labor negotiators and even if they could have predicted the impact of those actions in today’s environment, would they done anything different?
We’re hearing a lot about Governor Romney’s role in Bain Capital and, by today’s standards, the unthinkable concept of “outsourcing” labor offshore to increase profits. Whether outsourcing happened on his watch or not isn’t my point. Bain Capital’s mission at that time was rewarding its investors by creating high returns, not by creating jobs. Like every other American company, labor organization or private citizen, no one was worried about some far off time in the future. Immediate returns, good wages and lucrative benefits were seen as the goal and the immediate “win.” The future would have to take care of itself. Social conscience is a wonderful thing to have looking back from today’s perspective, but who among us today is truly worried about the future now? Through our consumption of products and investment choices we ultimately condone outsourcing as a method of keeping costs low, and how many citizens stormed government halls when labor contracts were awarded and benefits improved?
With more than half the country paying no federal taxes, it’s an easy position to insist the only fair thing is to make the top 2 percent income earners in the country pay more to cover the cost of government. Selfishly, we all see things from our own personal perspective, and how we will be affected is of primary concern. We all want good paying jobs, a great education system, improved government services, retirement accounts with abundant returns, a sound Social Security system when it’s our time to benefit, a robust business economy, no crime, environmentally and socially conscience citizens, affordable health care and a sound future for our children, don’t we? But we must realize for each victory we win, someone loses and someone pays. So long as it’s not you or I, we could go along with that, couldn’t we?
How we go about solving the major issues of the day, that is, if we can solve these issues at all, and how future generations will look back on our actions from a clear vantage point in the future, should be something we must factor into our discussions and solutions. We can’t continue to do what we’ve done all too often—be so consumed by our own interests and needs that our actions jeopardize the welfare of the communities and country we all profess to cherish. The house is beginning to crumble from the weight we’ve placed on it and we better all realize our personal self interests need to be kept in check. Its time we ALL chipped in carried the load or I fear our near term victories may become very hollow victories in the long term.
Dan Alexander is publisher and CEO of Denton Publications. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org