Just like them, we have a bunch of people who are hooked on government subsidies and unwilling to give up any part of them. We also have a bunch of people who have the resources to contribute much more, but who are, like the Greeks who are wealthy, unwilling to give up anything.
Our country, like theirs, is headed for a train wreck.
You hear this kind of talk, don’t you? Like Thelma and Louise, we seem to be headed for a cliff, more ready to ride out — and crash — than we are to grab the steering wheel or push our foot down on the brakes.
Our two political parties have strong partisan and tactical commitments that preclude a cooperative and pragmatic approach to the budget emergency and the shattered economy.
Both political parties have only enough power to keep the other one from taking charge. Thus, neither political group has enough power to govern.
Meanwhile in Greece, where the budget emergency is greater than in our country, the warring politicians have organized a coalition government and picked a “technocrat,” one respected by everyone, to lead the government as prime minister.
A similar approach in Italy resulted in the recruitment of a respected economic specialist to lead the government.
The American political system is not designed to accommodate this sort of change in government leadership between elections. Our people elect the President, and there is no simple way for Congress to undo that decision.
But, what if our system were more like the European parliamentary governments? What if our Congress could put in force a coalition government of “national unity” to meet the budget and economic emergencies?
Who could they recruit to lead? Who has the expertise to develop a plan? And who has the skills to bring the different groups to the table and give up ground, at least temporarily, for their highest priorities, and, finally, someone who agrees that the budget and economic crisis require compromise and unity?
Such skilled, non-partisan leaders are in short supply in Europe, and maybe even more so in the United States.
Nevertheless, let us try to come up with some ideas and some names. First, we have to concede that the candidates ought to have some expertise in government, and even have some experience in partisan politics, but one in which he or she still has the respect of the opposition political party.
So who are some candidates?
First consider Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City. Although he is a Republican, he has shown an ability to bring people of different political persuasions to work on commons tasks in New York City.
Or consider Warren Buffett. Maybe he is too old to take on such an assignment. But he has proven time and time again an ability to understand the importance of good financial planning and discipline for the success of businesses. He has been active in the debate of several important political questions Even though he is very wealthy, he has shown a willingness to promote some tax increases on the rich.
But my candidate for “prime minister” of the United States is Erskine Bowles.
Bowles has demonstrated an understanding of the importance of finding a painful solution to the budget situation in the United States. As representative of President Clinton in the discussions with Congress, he has already proved an amazing ability to bring about workable solutions to budget making challenges. His pragmatic approach to the challenges of administration and leadership of the UNC system is just one more indication that he is a someone you ask to take on the toughest assignments.
You might disagree for one reason or another, but I think Prime Minister Bowles sounds pretty good.