THE BLOG

Vision Testing Time for Congress

10/19/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

I am reminded as Congress prepares to re-ignite after its summer break that it might be prudent for all of them to get their vision checked. I'm not referring to their eyes but to their capacity to "envision" a new future while coming to terms with the magnitude of the crisis this nation is facing and the fact that they themselves are a central part of America's crisis. Consider, for example, that our Senators and Congressmen and Congresswomen are bracing themselves to solve the problems of our nation with legislation. That position alone calls for some visionary adjustments; to wit, our nation is not facing a tsunami of problems. Problems by their very nature have solutions, remedies, outcomes. Rather we are a nation confounded by predicaments and predicaments do not have solutions. A visionary would see that. A visionary would recognize that predicaments are greater than problems. They demand change at the philosophical base, change at the core. A predicament requires a transformation.

For example, I would call the power lock down between the Republicans and Democrats a predicament and not a problem. This nation needs its representatives to undergo a transformation of their egocentric power plays for the sake of the survival of our nation. They really do have to put this nation first and not their own careers. They really do have to pull together to make wise policies at this critical time because America's base of power is imploding. But are they capable of seeing that? Can you imagine these pride-driven individuals even grappling with idea of this challenge? I'm not sure Speaker of the House Pelosi could sit still long enough for the significance of the question to sink in. I think of the response by Senator Diane Feinstein the other day when asked about pursuing an investigation of torture under the Bush/Cheney years, specifically, "It would not be wise at this time," and it gave me great pause. When would investigating how and why we lost our moral high ground be wise, Senator Feinstein? Exactly when would such an investigation be suitable? Your lack of wisdom and that of others like you in not recognizing the significance of how our nation was compromised bit by bit by such actions as torture is precisely how problems eventually become predicaments. You and others like you simply refuse to investigate them because of a lack of courage to deal with the consequences of such investigations. You certainly have no problem in denying knowledge of these matters, which always amazes me. To be clear, I am amazed at what all of you claim you don't know, not your endless talent for denial.

So here's the size of America's predicament. The vast majority of the American Congress was formed and carved and molded from the values and mind set of the last century -- the last century. Repeat those words. And the vast majority is stuck in the last century. They are laden with lobbyist obligations and old world ideas about "problem solving" - namely that all problems can be resolved by spending more money, initiating new legislation, or by invading and bombing. If we are learning nothing else by the debacle of the Iraq/Afghanistan Wars, we should learn that invasion in an age of terrorism resolves nothing because terrorism is not a problem. Terrorism is a global predicament that demands a new way of thinking. We need 21st Century envisioning. Our Congress has proven to be a group of individuals incapable of envisioning creative pathways through all impending crises: resolutions on global climate change, the economic crises that began under the Bush administration, the state budget's going bankrupt, a strategy to end two wars that should never have begun, and a federal deficit that is unimaginable. In short, they have an extraordinary aptitude for failing to consider the long range consequences of any of their present day decisions. Worse, they show an absolute lack of any ability to envision ways of working through their own small-mindedness in order to jump-start America's entrepreneurial engine. If ever there was a time when this nation could use creative visionaries and leadership we actually respected instead of carnival barkers who offer nothing more than criticism of the opposite party, it is now.

I still hold on to hopes that Obama has what it takes to be a visionary. He hit the high notes in his campaign and he has a refined and elegant spirit. But he is losing that high ground and that's obvious. He is caving to criticism and diluting his energies. He needs to run a tighter ship and he needs to toughen up. One of the most difficult challenges in this human world is for a visionary to stand alone - and most of them end up doing exactly that. He is wise enough to recognize that America is in a crisis of predicaments and not a batch of problems. But let's face it. He is up against a Republican force that is now convinced that they have him on the run with this health care bill. Yet, as I listened to the folly of the Town Hall meetings, I noted as a long time student of military history that only a losing army would send its minions in to do its dirty work. And disruptive screaming is dirty work if there ever was dirty work for hire. These actions indicate the familiar swift boat strategy of a desperate and ruthless Republican party and not one that actually has a worthy leader somewhere in the wings or visionary ideas that could inspire the American people. By their behavior, they still show themselves to be a party of mere carnival barkers and to be honest, that is tragic for all of us because all of us pay the price for their fear. We learned that all too well under the Bush administration.

Perhaps Obama will have his vision adjusted when Congress comes back into session. It would be more than refreshing to watch him come back to life again, having shed a bit of his "Team of Rivals" innocence in which he assumes he can work, like Lincoln, with his adversaries as well as his supporters. And though Lincoln was from Illinois, Obama needs to remember he's from the south side of Chicago.