One of my favorite quotes has been attributed to Yogi Berra who reportedly said, “If you aim at nothing, you will be sure to hit it.” As I watch the often slow and convoluted process of government at work, I frequently wonder if there are any targets at all. My sense is that most political time horizons are short and intentionally aligned with the current election cycle. That places our elected officials clearly at odds with the needs of our citizens who benefit most when carefully thought out, understandable and clearly communicated visions supported by plans of action create confidence in the future. Today we listen to the political double speak, read the thorough analysis of non-events, watch the consistent lack of action by our politicians and then wonder why we lack confidence in the future.
Individuals, small businesses, big business—nearly all of us—plan our futures based on the understanding that the purpose of government at all levels is to provide predictability and stability so we can have faith that our decisions of today will result in the best possible future outcomes. Frankly, the lack of confidence in our future has been the primary reason for a dismally slow recovery from the recession that began in 2008. The problem rests squarely, I believe, on the doorsteps of government.
Locally, there are many things in today’s complex world that we cannot easily—or at all—predict or fix. Examples are: conflicts around the world, Eurozone problems, international trade and currency issues, national debt levels, health care, tax policy and on and on. We should stay informed about these issues, ready to debate, discuss and share opinions, but a long-term solution is beyond our individual capacity. However, we can make much progress closer to home if we remain focused on local issues that directly impact our daily lives and where our actions and opinions can truly make a difference.
In Paducah/McCracken County, I sense we are uncertain and adrift, not necessarily due to neglect or individual fault, but due to the lack of vision. As a community, we collectively remain unable to clearly delineate meaningful objectives, often are unfocused and at odds with each other and cannot reach consensus on critical or even simple issues. Shall we say, perhaps, that we are seemingly aiming at nothing other than the small, personal, day-to-day interests that cross our paths?
What then is the solution? Wherein lies the fix? I offer a few suggestions:
- Leadership at all levels should be totally committed to cooperatively solving tomorrow’s issues, not just today’s problems and must be focused beyond the next election.
- We should engage in thoughtful, careful planning that avoids personal bias and self-interest and places maximum value on a long-term vision.
- We must enact policies that support our vision and supersede the day to day distractions.
- Careful budgeting that places our financial resources on the largest problems is a must.
- Our planning and action horizon should be no shorter than five years.
An elected official not currently seeking re-election recently said that he was now free to address the tough issues without fear—fear I assume of not being re-elected. Isn’t that the crux of what’s really wrong? For just a moment, suppose that we dealt with the tough issues from day one instead of at the end of an election cycle? What a difference that would make! The future does belong to us, but only if we have a vision, develop a plan to achieve that vision, and demand that the plan be supported by consistent actions and all available resources. That would hold the promise of a real future for all of us.