David B.




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December 11, 2008

Welcome Aboard the Titanic, Mr. Obama


Imagine yourself as being aboard the Titanic in the first few moments following its chance encounter with an iceberg. An announcement comes across the ship’s public address system: “Attention passengers. We wish to inform you that this ship is no longer under the command of the incompetent schmuck who got us into this mess. Instead, we have appointed a new captain of uncommon skill and unquestioned valor and honor, the ideal steward for a vessel such as this. So please relax and enjoy the remainder of your trip, and thanks for choosing Cunard Lines for your transatlantic travel needs.”


Meanwhile, you watch as water floods through the massive gash in the ship’s hull, and feel it listing to the side. Do you give up your seat in the life raft and return to your stateroom?


How ironic it is that now that America has a president-elect it can afford to be proud of again, and now that there is some promise that the federal juggernaut will once again be in the hands of a capable and sturdy helmsman, America itself seems to be poised to sink like a stone. Barack Obama is about to take command of a badly, perhaps fatally, damaged ship of state and national economy, and despite our best wishes for our new captain and our confidence in his innate abilities, it would appear to be well past time to launch the lifeboats and start rowing. One minor problem: The lifeboats do not exist.


Ah, the joys of life in the newly globalized economy. As the Dow Jones Industrial Average sinks into the primordial muck, the FTSE, the Hang Seng and other indices from Moscow to Mumbai to Beijing follow along in lemminglike lockstep. Time was when a single intrepid nation – say, the post-World War II U.S., for example, left unscathed by the bombs that had leveled Dresden, Tokyo and Coventry – could assume a de facto leadership role in shepherding the rest of the world out of the economic wilderness.


But who is there to take the lead this time? China, hitherto seen as the next global economic powerhouse, seems to be on especially shaky ground, dependent upon exports of cruddy consumer items to waning western economies and with its currency chained to the boat-anchor of the U.S. dollar. Western Europe is witnessing the same bank failures, shriveling economies and other economic ills we are. And there’s no reason to even think about the Russians, who’ve slathered a blanket of corruption atop their own house-of-cards economy, just to keep things interesting.


Just about everybody realizes that times are bad in America, but it seems that few seem ready to acknowledge just ­­how bad. There aren’t many people left who remember the Depression of the 1930s, but the perfect storm of housing, banking, monetary and employment implosions currently facing the incoming administration could well make that earlier catastrophic contraction seem like a hiccup in comparison. One interesting metric: Were official unemployment figures still computed in the same way now as they were in the 1930s, we would already be approaching the same dire numbers, before the economy has fully bottomed out. One can only wonder how bad unemployment will be then – and shudder.


Despite his talents and capabilities and the strength of the team with which he has surrounded himself, it is unrealistic to expect Barack Obama to be a miracle worker. The real pain of the Bush Depression has yet to be felt. The true tragedy of that depression, apart from the incalculable human toll wrought upon American families, is that what stood to become a truly transformative administration able to wholly reshape the American government into a model for 21st Century statecraft stands to be hobbled sufficiently that it is reduced to simple, capable stewardship of a doomed vessel that it must somehow limp into port.


If Obama is successful even in accomplishing that, his legacy of greatness will be assured.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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