Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Heavy lifting...

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the fact that there are times when America doesn't seem willing to do the heavy lifting when it comes to national security concerns. Specifically, last night I was thinking about the fact that we seem unable to accept what may end up being either higher prices, or higher taxes, in order to support certain industries (example: steel) in order to secure our defense and security.

What do I mean? While I'm a true believer in a market-based economy, I think that in order to secure a common defense, we need to have a strong steel industry in America. What happens if the entire US steel industry closes shop because steel is able to be acquired in a more efficient and less costly manner overseas? But then what happens when we're at war and need to build aircraft carriers, tanks, and armored jeeps? Or bring it closer to home - our troops have suffered in Iraq due to lack of body armor and lack of armor on troop carrier and humvee-type vehicles. One of the justifications for these failures is the lack of supply. So, why haven't we REQUIRED it? Why hasn't this government been willing to force our industry to make sacrifices in order to provide such equipment to our troops? Or us, as citizens, why didn't they ask us to pay $5 or $10 each to be used to support some company to get this equipment to our troops?

Well, with that on my mind, I read Thomas L. Friedman's column today (I read it in the print edition of the Houston Chronicle, but it is published originally in the New York Times - paid subscription required to read online). His column reflects much of my recent thinking - although in a bit of a different perspective. The title of the piece is "Who's supporting the out of sight, out of mind troops?"
Leadership is about enabling and inspiring people to contribute in time of war so the enemy has to fight all of us -- not insulating the public so the enemy has to fight only a few of us.

If you want to compare President Bush in this regard with Presidents Roosevelt or Wilson, pick up a copy of Robert Hormats's soon-to-be-published book: ''The Price of Liberty: Paying for America's Wars.''

''In every major war that we have fought, with the exception of Vietnam, there was an effort prior to the war or just after the inception to re-evaluate tax and spending policies and to shift resources from less vital national pursuits to the strategic objective of fighting and winning the war,'' said Mr. Hormats, a vice chairman of Goldman Sachs (International).

He quotes Roosevelt's 1942 State of the Union address, when F.D.R. looked Americans in the eye and said: ''War costs money. That means taxes and bonds and bonds and taxes. It means cutting luxuries and other nonessentials. In a word, it means an 'all-out' war by individual effort and family effort in a united country.''

Ever heard Mr. Bush talk that way?

Something that is not said directly in that column, but lurks in the background, is that leadership often means calling for people to work collectively toward solving problems - not merely championing individual success. Roosevelt never minced words with the American people. He never told us that we could contribute to the war effort by going shopping, or on vacation. He told us it would be expensive, hard, long - and that we were all responsible for working together to make is successful. That would seem natural at a time of war, but all you have to do is look at the current Presidential Administration to realize that it is not.

It takes leadership to call for collective action - and call for the heavy lifting to be done by all of us. But can't we do that? I think that American's are more than willing to do it. I think that if we were asked to, we would be willing to pay more for products that use US steel. I think that, as Friedman suggests, if we were asked, we'd be willing to pay a "Patriot Tax" of 50 cents and invest the money to diminish our dependence on oil. I think that - if we'd only been asked - we would have done whatever it took to get our soldiers body and vehicle armor.

I believe America is ready and willing to do the heavy lifting - if only we had leaders that would ask.

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