Opinion

It’s Time for America to Get Its Swagger Back

All presidential elections are drawn out, trying, divisive processes, but this one was even more so — on every score.

It seems like it’s taken forever to reach this point, and the ugliness factor involved in choosing our next president has set a standard that will be hard to match. But through it all, we seem to have reached something approaching consensus — an electoral count of 349 to 163, at press time, allows us to use that word — that Americans want not simply change but better leadership, and they believe Barack Obama can provide it.

Let’s hope he can.

Because this country has lost something over the past several years. For lack of a better term, we’ll call it swagger.

The United States had, until quite recently, been respected by most of the rest of the world. It led the way when it came to innovation and entrepreneurship and bringing about positive change. All that seems gone now. The respect is certainly gone, and so, to a large degree, is that sense of entrepreneurship.

We’re no longer watching to see if other countries can catch up to us — instead, we’re hoping to catch up to the new standards being set by other countries, especially China.

This is one of the matters to consider as this nation enters what is always a very intriguing period, a time when the rancorous election process is behind us and people start to focus on the future and what can and should happen. We have some thoughts along those lines as well.

Obviously, the economy is first and foremost on everyone’s minds, and the turmoil of the past few months is no doubt one of the key reasons why Obama was elected. Now, it’s his job to fix things — but it’s not only his job; the task belongs to everyone who helped create this mess and then tried to fix it with stopgap, knee-jerk responses designed primarily to keep the Dow from sliding, and they didn’t even do that.

No, the economy can’t be fixed through $600 stimulus checks, nor with bailouts of major, and quite irresponsible, financial institutions. It will take much more than that, and perhaps the best place to start is with infusions of capital and support in programs that will generate new, well-paying jobs.

In the ’30s, the government did this by building roads, bridges, and dams. Today, it could do it by fostering development of new energy sources and technology that will rid this country of its dependence on foreign oil and help preserve the planet for future generations.

While making such investments, our elected leaders (not Obama all by himself) must address the annoying habit this country has of privatizing gains and socializing losses. The government enabled financial institutions to make the foolhardy moves that led to the recent meltdown, and then it bailed out those companies, or most of them, anyway. This wasn’t the first time this happened, but we hope it’s the last.

Elected leaders can help make sure it is by somehow changing attitudes in boardrooms across the country. We need to lose the ‘quick, easy buck’ mentality — like putting people in homes even if they don’t qualify, knowing that we can make billions if we do and the government will bail us out if it all blows up — and earn money the old-fashioned way.

In other words, corporations have to stop looking at the next batch of quarterly results and how to make them look better. They need incentives to look at and plan for the long term.

All this is difficult, because voters are aren’t focused on the long term, either. They want the economy fixed, and they want it fixed now. They don’t want to dread opening their next 401(k) statement.

In many respects, that’s Obama’s job — to make everyone’s 401(k) healthier. But in reality, the task is much broader and more difficult.

He’s got to get that swagger back.-

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