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Monday, February 20, 2012

Monkey in the Middle

Monkey in the Middle is a children’s game where two or more players try to keep the player in between them from getting the ball. They can throw the ball over or around the player in the middle. It is basically the opposite of Dodge ball. In today’s political climate, I would argue Monkey in the Middle is being played with the citizens of the United States.

Let me explain … the extreme left and the extreme right are keeping the success that America offers from the majority of Americans whose political philosophy is more moderate or centrist. It is my opinion that the diehard liberals and the diehard conservatives comprise less than 50% of the voting electorate. Those who would classify themselves as in the center, or center left, or center right make-up the majority.

But the extremists on both ends of the political spectrum are the vocal minority while the moderates in the center are the silent minority - hence the monkey in the middle reference. America is still the greatest nation on earth. The promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness still inspires millions to come to our nation – legally and illegally. Bill Bennett recently said at the Georgia Chamber’s Annual Banquet that the measure of a nation is measured by what happens when the gates are opened. Given the slightest chance people still flow into the United States despite our problems.

The extreme right and the extreme left currently have our nation in gridlock like never before. Even at a time when so much needs fixing, nothing is getting done. The extreme right under President Bush pushed American policy so far to the right (except on spending), the election of President Obama or someone like him was inevitable. And given conventional political wisdom (oxymoron), President Obama will likely be re-elected. Then in 2016, the middle majority will be forced to swing again to the right to course correct the dangerous policies enacted under the Obama administrations.

And we wonder why real problems in America go unsolved… America needs statesmen and stateswomen. In most other perilous times in our history, we had leaders who could bring us together. America rallied many times against imperial nations who sought to rule the world. We routinely come to the aid of American communities who have suffered a natural disaster and nations around the globe facing the same. But the internal problems that are plaguing our nation continue untouched.

America’s safety net has served millions and continues to do so today. But the bureaucratic largesse of many of our entitlement programs threatens their longevity. If costs are not reigned in for Medicare and Social Security, these programs will cease to exist. While corporate America has been forced to redefine benefits in order to compete in a global economy, our government entities at all levels refuse to address changes that are desperately needed.
Today’s America would not elect a Ronald Reagan or George H.W. Bush – even Hillary Clinton was considered moderate compared to President Obama. Consider the current Republican Presidential nomination process... Mitt Romney who clearly has tremendous leadership skills and accomplishments struggles because the primary process gives greater voice to the extreme in the Republican Party vs the moderately conservative.

I am not endorsing Mr. Romney. I am only saying that his qualifications for office are being subordinated to his less than extreme right philosophical positions. Conversely Senator Obama was elected in spite of his glaring lack of experience for serving in the most powerful leadership position in the world. And given his more often than not leave it to Congress approach to governing; we desperately lack the needed statesmanship a strong leader can bring to a divided nation along partisan lines.

So what do we do about it? As citizens, we must work hard at educating ourselves on the issues. And then we must hold our elected officials accountable to do what is right and just for our nation – not what is politically expedient. We must also look at issues from a non-partisan paradigm. For instance, I am fundamentally opposed to the government providing entitlements on the premise they are the rights of its citizens vs privileges. But I am equally opposed to universally not helping those who desperately need it. We must help people while also leading them to provide for themselves.

Those who profess to be moderates or centrists must also be more active and involved in the process. Whether it be in campaign volunteering or simply voicing the concerns over issues that cannot be solved by the left or the right and demanding a compromise or as Dr. Stephen Covey would say – seeking the third alternative or win –win.

Social Security for instance will not be protected for future retirees by the views of the left or the right. The left simply wants to raise taxes on everybody to provide more revenue. The right simply wants to reduce benefits. The third alternative or win-win is to protect benefits of all over the age of 55 or 60 while adjusting the forecasted benefits of those younger than that. But current retirees who are above a certain income level could also receive fewer benefits. Unfortunately the gridlock between the extremes will prevent any reform threatening Social Security as we know it.

Some are sure we will become the next Greece because of the course we are on. I am not convinced that is our future, but I am sure we will continue to fall behind other nations if we stay the course. It is time for real problem-solving and real leadership at all levels of government. And the majority of citizens who philosophically live in the middle are the greatest hope we have in finding common ground.

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