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The Patience Problem

Posted on by arlen

The election is over. The campaign was the easy part. Gary Kasparov’s new editorial, though, underscores the biggest problem our freshly-minted President will have to face.

It’s not the economy, or the war, or terrorism, or taxes, or the deficit; these all look simple when compared with the real problem. The shortage of patience.

Kasparov wants him to do something about Russian relations, but that’s just the opening. Nearly everyone who lined up behind President-Elect Obama has their own pet issue, and their own timetable for solving it. And he will disappoint them.

No, I’m not criticizing him, I’m simply pointing out that the election did nothing to repeal natural laws. There are still only 86400 seconds in a day, and he will have to remain idle for some of them (it’s called sleep) if he intends to operate at full capacity during the rest. The nature of time is such that we humans can only really concentrate on one thing at a time, can only do one thing at a time. So priorities will be set, and followed, and some things will wait while other things get done.

There’s going to be a tremendous pressure on him to do everything at once — a sure recipe for failure in everything. When Jimmy Carter gave his first presidential speech, outlining everything he planned on doing in his first year, Hubert Humphrey said to him, “If you get even a third of that accomplished in your first term, you’ll get your own book in the bible.”

So the question is, how will his uptopia-mad supporters react when told their pet issue will have to wait for a while, because other things are more important? When something they want gets traded away in the cause of getting something he feels is more important enacted? Good Government is not pure as the driven snow; it’s the art of compromise, of giving a little on one issue to gain something on another. It’s settling for a step forward instead of insisting upon a great leap.

President-Elect Obama has inherited a huge mess, one that took years, in some cases decades, to make. It’s not going to go away when he walks in the door. It won’t suddenly resolve itself as it basks in his smile.

If he truly means to heal our dysfunctional family, his people are going to have to avoid the temptation to play “Now it’s our turn!” and start ramming things through. President Reagan tried that, as did President Clinton, and it cost both of them control of Congress and brought gridlock in very short order. The second President Bush’s experience also leads to the same conclusion.

Building consensus, bringing more people into the tent, slows the process down, this is true. Now matter how well-intentioned or important it is, it will cause some fractious debates within the ranks of supporters. The adoption of the US Constitution, for example, infuriated Patrick Henry. But anything less is a lack of leadership that dooms us all.

Since I began this with a Kasparov reference, it’s fitting to end it with a chess metaphor. President-Elect Obama’s position is dicey: he’s a pawn down in a Rook ending, but all isn’t lost. The game can be saved, perhaps even won. But it’s going to take a lot of work, and especially time.

The question before the house is: Is he going to get that time? I suspect he won’t, I fear that both as a nation and as a world, we have grown too self-centered to allow that to happen. But I live in hope.

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November 2008
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