SO, WHAT'S THE PLAN?

March 2014

I think some of President Obama's speeches are pretty good. Oh, I know he doesn't say anything really new, and it's true he can't accomplish much of what he wants to, without some help from Congress - which he isn't likely to get. Still, more and more lately he has been saying some pretty important things, which - if our often seemingly brain-dead electorate picks up on - could open the door for future action. The President won't get the satisfaction of success on his watch, but he may be paving the way for better things for the Country in the future.

   What he has been saying is that there comes a time - for an individual or a political party - when you can't just be AGAINST things. You have to be FOR something. Right now, the Democrat/Progressives have a better record on that score. They at least have what I consider good ideas; unfortunately, they don't seem to have a clue as to how to present those ideas in a way that will excite, and then convince, the American public. The Republican/Conservatives have been in the "Let's Take Down Obama" period for so long that I doubt there are many voters of any persuasion who credit them with any significant ideas. Neither stance - wishy-washyness or obstructionism - holds much promise for the parties or (much more importantly) for the Nation.

   In the past, I've proposed that each political party, or each interested entity, prepare a plan for the country that stated clear objectives and outlined real strategies. I suggested the endangered species recovery planning process as a possible model. At its baldest, this process doesn't seem any different than all the other planning you've done: you set an objective, then decide what you need to do to meet that objective. One difference is that, if you're really serious about saving a species from extinction, you have to know pretty specifically what "saving" means, and you have to know pretty specifically what it will take to do that saving. Another difference is that, if a species is truly endangered, you can't write a plan that merely says we could maybe do this or that Some Day -- time is usually of the essence, as the saying goes, and you have to have a very clear plan of attack to make sure your plan works In Time. Because time is important, you can't get sidetracked with ideas about things that might be nice - your plan has to concentrate on those things that have to be done, and often have to be done in a certain orderThis kicks in the IF AND ONLY IF rule of recovery planning: i.e., every task in the plan has to lead directly to the accomplishment of your primary objective; every task that doesn't - even if it's something you might you want personally, or something that "might be nice" someday - has no place in the Recovery Plan.

*   *   *

   For an endangered species, the recovery plan might be fairly simple - not necessarily simple to accomplish, but not too difficult to define. For a nation, formulating an objective that is precise enough to have some meaning will obviously be difficult - maybe impossible - but without taking at least a serious stab at it, we will be stuck with platitudes and political slogans that take us nowhere except DOWN. Listen up, you elected representatives of us people: you need to give us a clear idea of what you want so we can tell if it's WHAT WE WANT.

   A couple examples. For the Democrats: No matter how worthy the thought, or how nice it sounds, "Make Things Better for People" is not going to cut it as a primary objective. How do you know when you've reached your objective? Maybe you can use it as your overall target, but then add some substance. For instance: "Make Things Better for People by Making Sure There Is (to use an old political slogan) A Chicken in Every Pot." That's better, but it needs more definition. How often must there be a chicken in every pot - once a day, once a week, once a month? How do you define "every pot" - every person, every family of four - what about a "family" of eight: two pots? And how big a pot - big enough for a 2-pound chicken, or a 5-pound chicken? In other words, you keep going until you can state PRECISELY where you want to get. But what about the person who wants two chickens in his pot? Fine, but that's outside the Recovery Plan, so he goes after his second chicken on his own. The Recovery Plan does not ignore his desire for a second chicken; it just doesn't do anything about it, at least until everybody else has their first chicken.

   Republicans, I can't tell you that "Cut Taxes" can't be in your overall philosophy, but, really, it should be a JOB needed to reach an OBJECTIVE, not the objective itself. Use it if you like, but to be a meaningful objective you need to tell us WHY you want to cut taxes, and you need to tell us HOW MUCH you need to cut them. If you seriously try to do this, I think you will find that the "plan" needs a little more meat to it (not necessarily chicken - you may consider that too much of a Democrat idea - but definitely something people can sink their teeth into).

*   *   *

  Defining the Recovery Plan objective may be the hardest part of the whole process, but it's obviously just the beginning. Say that you decide your objective is to have a 5-pound chicken available for every 4 people in the United States twice a week all year long. Clearly, you'll have to figure out how to produce enough chickens. Then, you'll have to address how the chickens are going to be paid for. Also, you won't be able to guarantee the availability of chickens without a well-defined distribution system. Each of these needs goes into the second tier of your plan, and together spell out the broad strategy for reaching your primary goal. Under each of these sub-headings are all the specific jobs that will need to be done. You may not be sure that you know every task that has to be done, but because this is a top-down plan - at the outset, you very clearly stated where you're heading -  you should be able to eliminate those possible chores that aren't vital to goal achievement.

*   *   *

   Obviously, there will be some significant differences between a recovery plan for an endangered species, and one for a nation. An endangered species plan has to be precise about what the species needs; there may be some flex in how you achieve your goal, but biological facts set limits on the possibilities. Plans for the country are more philosophical, with many possible goals and avenues of approach. Still, it seems like both political parties should be able to express their objectives and strategies in ways that are both understandable and measureable.

   By its very nature, the endangered species plan has very little room for compromise. If reaching biological goals is not realistically or politically possible, the species will not be saved. Because the citizenry of the United States is strongly polarized, the plans developed by the two parties are likely to be quite different. For us to truly be UNITED States,  points of agreement will have to be found, and compromises will have to be made.

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   Do I think that such a United States Recovery Plan could ever be prepared? Not in a million years. In the first place, I'm confident there are few leaders who would be willing to even consider such an effort. If (miraculously) the two partisan efforts did get  drafted, there could never be a final plan because we have lost the ability in this country to negotiate, compromise, and work for the good of everyone. Even if that wasn't true, it's unlikely that either "side" really knows where they want to go; there have been too many years of important sounding words - left, right, liberal, conservative, moderate, progressive, etc. - that have no real meaning that can be translated into a coherent course of action. Also, those within each faction who really do have an "agenda" are probably not anxious for most citizens to know what their goals  are. No, we're not going to see a national plan prepared and implemented.

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   If a species is truly endangered - i.e., in danger of becoming extinct - then it will be lost if no actions are taken to save it. Few, if any, of us think of the United States in that way. However, the Endangered Species Act recognizes another category of concern: threatened. A species considered "threatened" is not in immediate danger of extinction, but it is vulnerable and - if we're not careful - could be in danger of becoming endangered. I think this is an accurate description of the United States, today. A threatened species can sometimes hang on for a long, long time but - without some serious attention paid to its needs - its situation will never get better, and will almost inevitably get worse.  Considering our history, it seems the United States have always been "threatened."  We've hung on, but the events of the past decade should give everyone cause to worry about our future. In the plant and animal kingdoms, there are many examples of "threatened" becoming "endangered" in an amazingly short time.


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