Politicians are mainly now-guys, welded to the present, forced to react to the remorseless wheel of change with little time to see bigger pictures.
For instance: planes commandeered by rabid ideologues smash into the center of the world's economy. Our leaders respond to the attack, and the next eight years are an essay in a weak president's inability to react appropriately to succeeding crises.
He may want us to believe that he kept America safe, but if he'd said that in New Orleans they'd throw shoes, and anyway is staying safe good enough for Americans?
(Or, on an angrier note, what did staying safe cost apart from our principles, our prosperity and our friends?)
It's true that few politicians see the historical sweep. Still, when they do, our lives are changed irrevocably.
"When it comes time," an excellent speech writer once wrote for his excellent President, "for the next generation to look back in judgment upon us..."
Big picture stuff. Everything changed. We were working for the future then. Busily preparing to pass a torch. That's why staying safe is never good enough in America. America is a Puritan dream about how good things will be in the future if you work your ass off now.
And now -- once again -- when everything is shot to hell, the good news is that the American government has a unique opportunity to reorient itself towards the future.
Tomorrow may never come, of course. But here it is anyway arriving on our doorstep like a desperate junkie waving his pistol wildly, demanding whatever he can pawn.
'Give him the money,' the decider says.
'All $700 billion?' ask the nervous cashiers wondering what the kids will eat tomorrow.
'Sure,' he says. 'Whatever it takes.'
The junkies love him. New groups of junkies arrive every day ready to take advantage of this administration's user-friendly attitude towards junkies. There are auto-junkies, housing-junkies and financial-junkies.
'If we go down, you go too,' they croak. This time they don't even bother with a gun.
'...Let's see how much I got left,' says the shoe-President.
And then, on the very day the decider reminds us of how safely we'd been kept after 9/11, something remarkable happens in New York.
Remarkable things happen in New York every day, of course. Once in the '80s, for example, I saw Mia Farrow coming out of Central Park with an enormous passel of kids. She smiled at me as though I was Frank Sinatra and I felt like a million dollars for the rest of the day.
But this was even bigger than that.
This week an Airbus screwed up in mid-flight. Crisis! No one could have predicted those god-damned birds! No one ever thought of putting cages or screens over the engine intakes... They were busy. It wasn't cost-effective. Birds rarely happen.
Still, a steady, experienced hand was able to save all souls against enormous odds. In so doing, he provided New York's new message to America at the beginning of this new Presidency.
Here it is:
- For now, trust this captain and his crew.
- Keep your head above the water (duh).
- Move expeditiously to your safest point where
- you will be met and rescued by reliable help.
So America, you can move past the disastrous aftermath of Hurricane Katrina because you no longer need to be a gigantic corporation to be rescued by your own government. Once again, we're all in this together.
Keep your end up, and encourage the fellow next to you. We're not working for the junkies anymore.
Once again, we're working for our children and our future. Tomorrow, the work goes on. The cause endures. The hope still lives. The dream those crazy puritans dreamed resumes on Jan. 20th.
There is no end in sight.