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Kenneth Kales Headshot

When the Past Won't Go Away

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I watch the plane fly overhead knowing that the airlines are holding on anyway they can to survive. They cut air mile programs, charge extra baggage fees, and hawk sandwiches that used to be included in the price of a ticket. From the ground the plane looks ordinary. But get on board if you really want to witness the reality of flying today.

Like the airlines, many economists, businesses, and politicians have been telling us to stay in our places on the ground and look toward the sky with aspirations for a better future. Last week though we were led aboard by way of a Federal Reserve Report which revealed a loss of 40% of American wealth over the last three years. The Great Recession has decimated our personal economic levels to those equivalent to 20 years ago in 1992. This evaporation of two decades of wealth has wiped out 401(k)s, college funds, emergency back up accounts, credit lines, and housing equities.

President George W. Bush started us on this calamitous track with the luxury of his wars and tax cuts for his wealthy cohorts. His predetermined quest for war with Iraq has long ago been proven. His admiration for President Reagan's trickle down economics, was long ago proven to be not policy, but fallacy. The nation had some warning about what would be in store under a Bush administration. We were fooled by this "compassionate conservative." But honestly, we're grown-ups. We've been lied to many times. At this point, stopping short of cynicism, we have a responsibility to question authority and sniff out their deceptions.

So let's start with our coming up to the four year mark of recovery from Mr. Bush's administration since he left office. If only it was history. But the saddest truth about George W. Bush is that his presidency lives on every day. The recklessness committed by him and his supporters has required his successor to use almost his entire first term to suture the wounds. But we're still bleeding and the next presidential term will also likely be spent on recovery for a nation on its back.

It is easy to be angry at President Obama for the economic strife we are living through. But it is both arrogant and self-righteous for partisans to shift this calamity onto him alone. In fairness, the stimulus could have been bigger. The banks we bailed out should have been been compelled to refinance instead of repossess homes. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars should have ended sooner. But each of these reactions was to regain from much greater losses piled upon us by President Bush. Mr. Obama has not been, as one would say proactive, he has been reactive in this regard.

It must be difficult for President Obama to see himself as at least a partial victim. His presidency, his calls for glory and hope, have taken on a quaint nostalgia. Let's be clear though that Mr. Obama's election was no accident. However, Mr. Obama's administration has become the accidental presidency because it was without his knowledge or ours that essentially his entire first term would be spent on recovering from his predecessor's tenure.

The first and most pragmatic thing anyone can do to earn the respect and trust of the American people is to recognize that Mr. Bush drove us off the bridge headfirst into the river. Further, critics of the recovery process under President Obama can not be given credibility without their equal critical analysis holding President Bush and his supporters responsible for creating the economic meltdown in the first place.

Unfortunately, the presidential debates are heating up with these myopic attacks on President Obama's handling of the economy. It's like like a mangled motorcyclist who wasn't wearing a helmet and lying in intensive care, criticizing the surgical procedure for keeping him from getting back on his bike.

We need all of the best ideas we can find, whether from a Republican or Democrat. And we can not allow the debate to become so narrow-minded. We have to insist on the big picture. That calls for those who got us into this mess to come forward and admit to their responsibility. Only then will they have the credence to criticize opposition and advocate for their own direction. This also applies to President Obama for his part. Whether they are capable of this self-admission or not capable of it will speak volumes by itself.