No Easy FixesWritten By: Dale Leppo
Article Date: 02-01-2006
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Will we "decay elegantly" or push ourselves to compete?
I'm writing this at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday at the AED Annual Meeting. I'm doing it now because I woke up thinking about former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's remarks last night. Cindy and I sat up until midnight last night talking about our reactions to his remarks with our son Eric and his friend Nicolette.
To those of you who were in San Diego, I apologize for repeating part of what you heard. To those of you who were not there, I apologize because there is no way I can clearly communicate his entire message in one page, but here's what I heard him say:
Speaker Gingrich didn't give us any easy fixes. He told us there are trade-offs to consider.
- The United States is a great nation with a healthy economy. We should be proud of what we have accomplished and be willing to do what is necessary to continue our success.
- We have issues that require our attention. Education, Iran, Iraq and the desire of some to destroy our way of life were among the concerns he addressed.
- The current lobbying scandals in Washington, D.C. were portrayed as the work of "traitors" to our American values and political system. Gingrich praised AED's grassroots approach to lobbying and contrasted that to those who are on the front pages of our newspapers.
- America is the greatest economic power in the world, and it has been since the 1800's. Despite that (or maybe because of that), we face a very real economic threat, largely from China.
In his opinion, the United States has two options. The first is to follow the path of Europe, and in his words "decay elegantly." We can mandate a 35-hour workweek, long vacations, and generous transfer payments, while we focus on a comfortable lifestyle. We have enough assets and momentum for this to be sustainable for several generations, during which time our economic competitors would most likely drop us to second place at best.
His alternative is for Americans to continue to push ourselves hard, work long hours, and compete in an increasingly challenging world economy. In Gingrich's view as a former professor of history, the United States will still be the world's strongest economy 100 years from now if we make the effort required.
Speaker Gingrich also didn't tell us what we should do. Instead, he told us the American public needs to have a serious debate about how to deal with the issues of terrorism and economic globalization.
It was a thought-provoking message.
He then took questions from the audience. His last question came from someone who spoke about the sacrifice of a soldier who had died in Iraq, and the impact his death has had and will continue to have on the soldier's three-year-old son. Gingrich listened quietly and respectfully to the questioner who (I believe honestly) wondered aloud if the sacrifice of this fallen soldier and his family was justified.
Gingrich looked down for several seconds to gather his thoughts, and then said he disagreed with the questioner's point of view. Gingrich said the fallen soldier was not only a hero, but that he should be held up as a role model for his son and others.
What I liked most about his response was that he strongly articulated the need for our country to fight to protect our way of life - without attacking the person who had asked the question.
I'd like to see more of that type of respect for those with whom we disagree. Too often those in Washington and the media yell, interrupt and generally respond disrespectfully to others. I found Gingrich's response very moving.
When I returned to the stage to thank him, all I could say was something like, "I don't know what to say. Thank you Mr. Speaker."
As I left the stage, my son said, "Mom says you were trying not to cry. What's up?"
I reminded him that I had three cousins whose father had been killed in an Air National Guard training exercise. My uncle Paul had been a fighter pilot in Korea, my uncle Lee was lost in Europe in WWII, Cindy's father flew 25 missions in a B-17 from England (and lost most of his friends), my father was in the Navy, and two of my brothers served in the 1970's.
My point is that our family, like many American families, has made the sacrifices required to maintain our freedom.
In my opinion, the questioner had a legitimate point. I've seen first hand how very difficult it can be for the families that lose a loved one serving in the armed forces.
Gingrich was also correct that those who serve should be held up as role models and heros to others.
What does this have to do with AED? I believe government affairs is an area of great importance to AED and its members. There are short-term issues like the highway bill and long-term concerns like maintaining our economic strength at stake in Washington and in our state capitals. Those of you who were in San Diego heard Gingrich say it's important for us to be involved.
I can think of no better way to get involved than to join us on March 8 and 9 in Washington, D.C., for the annual AED Government Affairs Conference. You'll have several opportunities to sign up (email, fax, etc.).
If you want to know more about the conference, please call AED's Washington office at 703-739-9513 and talk to Christian Klein or Christopher Durocher.
And if you have questions for me, or topics you'd like to see me address, please email me at email@example.com.
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