Thursday, November 12, 2009

An Inverted Sense of Urgency

Imagine the following scenario. It's a lazy Sunday morning at home. You are having breakfast and reading the newspaper. In the Local section is an article about how the water table has been rising and could lead problems in your area if trends persist for the next few decades. You have a basement, so this could be a problem for you. Meanwhile, you're eating am omelette, and it occurs to you that your doctor told you to cut down on the cholesterol - oops! Otherwise, it could be a problem in a few years. Just then, this tranquil scene is shattered by a cry from your spouse: a grease fire in the kitchen! Quick, what do you do?

If you were the current administration of the United States, you would, first, call up your neighbors to talk about this water problem and see what they're doing about it; second, throw out the rest of that omelette, collect and discard any other eggs in the house, and start researching other ways to cut down on fats. But what about that grease fire? It's spread to the kitchen counter and threatens to burn down the house. Oh, well: a final decision on that can wait a little longer, right?

The issues taking up most of the President's time these days are analogous: global climate change, health care, and Afghanistan strategy. The first of these, climate change, might become important to the U.S. in 50-100 years. The second, health care, is important now, but even the administration, in its hurry to get a bill passed, has no intention of having its provisions take effect before 2013. So it can't be that urgent. Finally, Afghanistan strategy has been left dangling, undecided, for months. Remember when Afghanistan was the good war being neglected because of our attention to Iraq? That seems to have changed around January 20.

My analogy is far from perfect, of course: Presidents can and must deal with multiple issues at the same time (as then-candidate Obama chided McCain when the financial crisis struck last October). And the fire in Afghanistan threatens to engulf that country, not ours. The fact remains, though, that while the President and his Democrat allies rush to ram through one- or two-thousand page bills to deal with problems that have timescales of years or decades, they just can't find the time to make a decision that really needed to be made yesterday - or preferably, half a year ago.

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