Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Tale of Three Generations

'Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.' That's an old chestnut shibboleth which more or less accurately describes the seemingly inevitable macro cycle of a business history. A person with a vision and/or a compelling need to keep body and soul together rolls up his or her sleeves, works long hours and founds a small business which finds a need in the market place and establishes a viable niche. The first born inherits the leadership of the small company and expands it, improves it, brings it up to date with new technology, enlightened awareness of how to keep the team of employees together and pulling as one. The third generation moves in and milks the company for personal satisfaction, exhibiting none of the qualities of innovation and perseverance of the previous two generations, but all of the self serving habits of one who feels entitled.

The following generation has to roll up its sleeves and start over.

Here's Tom Friedman's Sunday Times column which chronicles how this is working out in our society today. Except for using his column yet again to give a seemingly obligatory periodic plug to his friend Michael Mandelbaum, Friedman provides a pretty good summation of what we're dealing with in our economy today.

Perhaps President Obama has not yet realized that he's that fourth member of the family on whom falls the need to roll up its sleeves and start over.

George W. Bush certainly lived up to his role as the profligate third generation who milked the thing dry for his own pleasure.

It's not lost of many of us that George W. actually is that member of the third generation, the first being his grandfather who amassed a fortune, the second his father who understood the need to be a good steward of that fortune. George W. Bush is the silver spoon, spoiled brat who exhibits all the characteristics of the entitled one. That we actually survived, albeit barely, his bought and paid for presidency is a tribute to the underlying strength of the people who make up this country.

(For those of you who require specific facts to support the claim that George W. is the true embodiment of that profligate third generation, read my recent post about Mark Shields' column on the subject. )

Obama needs to call on the experience and skills which he honed as a community organizer in Chicago, and employ those skills at the national level. By doing so he will gain the admiration and trust of the American people, who desperately want to be led by someone who understands and who demonstrates, not just proclaims, that he knows what needs to be done in times that call for starting over.

By doing so, in contrast, Obama would expose the selfish and out of touch GOPhers as the profligate third generation they truly are.

It's not the role that Obama wanted to play as demonstrated by his attempts to act like a second generation leader, promoting huge initiatives, like reforming health care, which require a still healthy economy to support them. It's fallen on him to be a kind of new founder, a first generation type who, not just figuratively for photo ops, actually rolls up his sleeves.

Behold, he makes everything new again. In that sense he really could be The One.

Lighthouse Keeper

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