Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Where Were You Eleven Years Ago Today?

I was working in downtown Houston on a project with a large energy trading firm when I heard about the first plane. The company had a group of Risk Manager's who had the job of monitoring the trading transactions and as such had a bull-pen with several televisions tuned to various financial news services. When the story broke, all the services switched over to reporting about the crash in the tower. I walked over to the bull-pen just as the image of the 2nd plane traveling into the tower was shown on the screen.

I was completely stunned. Everyone on the trading floor was silent and listening to the news report. After about 20 minutes of complete silence, people started talking, making phone calls to their friends and loved ones. I called my wife who had just dropped the kids off at school and hadn't heard about the event. We were told by the building maintenance to evacuate the building and leave the down-town area. I couldn't get a flight out of Houston for several days, so I drove up to Dallas to visit with my parents.

The events of the day seem like ages ago. We've gone from suffering through the horror of seeing our neighbors in New York and Washington attacked and dying and finally realizing that we were now no safer than those in Europe or other areas that had been victims of terrorist attacks. The resulting unification of this country around response to the attack and the attempt at healing was remarkable. There were no longer Texans, Californians, Iowans, etc. etc. There were only Americans, and by extension, we all became New Yorkers, Pennsylvanians and Washingtonian's  for a while.

Contrast that brief period of unity with the fractious times we are experiencing today and one wonders why can't we keep that sense of community that we had right after 9/11?

It's a shame.

Remembering those we lost eleven years ago.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Four More Years

It should come as little surprise to those who have read my articles that I'm supporting Barack Obama for reelection.  I was excited to see such a young, talented and gifted politician rise to the office in 2008.  Now, four years later I am still enthusiastic about this man and want him to get another four years as our President.

Last night's acceptance speech from the President was a great example of how one grows in their job over time.  In 2008, the themes were "Hope and Change", and "Change you can Believe in".  For me personally that 2008 campaign brought an optimism for our country hadn't experienced in a long, long time.  The excitement coming from this man who had electrified the Democratic convention in 2004 with his keynote address was palpable and evident in all aspects of our society.  Young and old were out and working hard to bring Mr. Obama into the White House.  As he stood in the sunlight on a cold January morning in 2009 and gave his inaugural address, I was filled with a pride that not only had we elected a young and vibrant man full of energy into the office, we had also shattered the dark history of our past in that he was also African American.

What a difference four years can make.   The President came into office with an approval rating of 68%, his highest rating to date.  Now, in 2012, his approval rating is in the 40's, a sign of the difficult road we have all traveled, the faded optimism of 2008 and the continued level of dysfunction in Washington.  Reality has set it, and while I do not blame the President for all of this, surely he must take some responsibility for the lack of progress in bringing Washington together to be more productive for the American People.  That said, I agree with former President Clinton, who said Wednesday evening that "no one, not I, not any of my predecessors could have gotten us out of the mess that was made in just four years".  

So, if I'm endorsing President Obama, why am I bringing up his difficulties in getting us together and critiquing his lack of progress in making Washington work?  Because he did himself.  Last night, in a moment of humility and candor, he said "I'm far more mindful of my own failings". Compare that with his predecessor who when asked couldn't come up with any mistakes he had made while in office.  The President gets that he hasn't hit a bunch of home runs.  He gets that there is much work to be done and he gets that people are not yet satisfied with his work.  But, rather than shy away from it and throw a bunch of blame somewhere else to try and deflect the reality that the last four years hasn't gone as well as he hoped, he embraced his difficulties and I saw a man who has grown considerably and who is more determined than ever to accomplished what he set out to do when he was elected the first time.

The President has also been tested and challenged in ways that many before him and likely many after him will not have to experience.  The worst economic situation since the Great Depression, two wars being waged, and an environment in Washington that has devolved into a continuous food-fight between the Democrats and Republicans in Congress.  The President has made attempts, overtures, acquiescence's and compromises with the Republicans in order to try and continue to move forward.  Some of that worked. Some didn't.  He's been derided by a lunatic right wing fringe element of this country that to this day will claim he is not an American.  He is a Muslim.  He is a Communist.  I've not experienced this kind of derision of a President in my life time, and still he pushes on without a lot of rancor and anger. 

As to his achievements.  The facts are out there.  The accomplishments of the administration are manifest. We've seen social legislation level the playing field for women relative to equal pay. We've seen the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, that insidious compromise forced on to President Clinton in the 1990's. We've seen financial reform implemented with tighter regulations on the Wall Street vultures who took our financial system off the cliff in 2008. We've seen the most significant piece of health care reform legislation passed since Medicare in the 1960's.  We've seen our national security shored up, with Al Qaeda damaged immeasurably and we've seen the end of combat operations in Iraq. 

We've also seen an economic recovery that has brought close to 5 million net new private sector jobs in less than four years.  We've seen bold action to rescue an automobile industry that was on the verge of collapse. We've seen 29 months in a row of new job growth in an economy that is still growing too slowly, still under employing too many, and still very, very fragile.  All in all, the President's team has achieved a lot, but still they have fallen short of their objectives.  The President spoke last night that he's changed since he was that young, fresh-faced candidate in 2008.  His words are better than mine, so I'll repeat them for you:

"I'm no longer just a candidate. I'm the President.  I know what it means to send young Americans into battle, for I have held in my arms the mothers and fathers of those who didn't return.  I've shared the pain of families who've lost their homes, and the frustration of workers who've lost their jobs.  If the critics are right and I've made my decisions based on polls, then I must not be very good at reading them.  And while I'm proud of what we've achieved together, I'm far more mindful of my own failings, knowing exactly what Lincoln mean when he said, "I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go."

So we have a young man (younger than me), who has been burnished and tempered by the reality of the last four years, who still has hope and optimism for the future, faith in the people of this country and a desire to make sure that you, me, our parents, our kids, our families and friends, are better off when he leaves the office than when he entered it.  I think all in all, we are much better off. There is work to be done.  He is prepared, tested and proven.  With all due respect to Mr. Romney, the President is the guy I want for another four years.