Monday Morning, November 10, 2008
It’s fair to say that the theme of this historic election can be reduced to a single monosyllabic word – change. Both parties embraced it in their own way. The polls and the focus groups all confirmed it. The nation wants change. The politicians vowed to give it.
And now we are about to find out what that means. We’re told that the dramatic impact of the financial crisis has yet to play out. The current administration seems as eager to move out as the new administration is to move in. The House and the Senate are poised to implement a dramatic shift in the policies of the past, with a President ready to sign off on new directions. And we are left to sort through the possibilities. What’s next?
I, for one, welcome many of the changes. When I consider the run-away and absurd run up in real-estate values to impossible heights, the no questions asked availability of credit, the spending fueled by borrowed money, and the piling up of national debt and the imbalance of trade – something had to give. And it has.
In the years I spent as a financial advisor, we knew that economic vitality depends as much on psychology as policy. The great engine of economic progress relies on the fuel of confidence. When confidence goes, so does the GNP. That’s why Wall Street works so hard to alleviate the fear of risk. The buildings themselves are designed to give us a sense of permanence and strength. The officers of the “the firm” exude trustworthiness. That’s the way it works.
We all know the domino effect from Economics 101: when people no longer trust, they stop spending. They cancel their travel. They pull their money out of the market. They pare back on all the extras. They batten down the hatches and hold on to what they have. They postpone the new car purchase. They make do. And pretty soon jobs are lost, businesses close down, unemployment lines lengthen, and ordinary people deal with painful, personal loss.
I’ve been around long enough now. This cycle has played out before. And it will again. The tide of economic well-being ebbs and then it flows. Confidence becomes over-confidence becomes loss becomes fear becomes recovery becomes confidence. And around we go again. The question really is this: can we handle change? Can we adapt? Can we find new ways to bring solutions and meet the needs of the marketplace?
It takes a boatload of cynicism to miss the resurgence of confidence that exploded onto the scene Tuesday night. It’s as though an entire nation longing for new direction was unleashed to a new world of possibility. The crowds. The cheering. The tears. The global celebration. In the aftermath of the announcement that hit the airwaves at 11PM EST (8PM PST) something new was born. It’s the dawning of a new day. And even those who opposed the Obama candidacy are offering up their expressions of admiration for a stunning victory.
McCain’s concession speech may well have been his finest moment. President Bush appeared the following morning to affirm this turning point in American history. Pastors who shepherd flocks that were put on notice by screeching conservative voices that an Obama victory would be calamitous reminded their people that God is still in control. He is sovereign. While we may be surprised at the outcome, he is not.
And on this Monday morning, you, as a leader, along with me enter into uncharted territory once more. We thought we were dealing with change when Bill Clinton was elected (that was 1992). We thought we were finished as a nation in the aftermath of the Florida debacle when the election went to the Supreme Court. When the World Trade Center collapsed after the attack of 9/11 we feared that we might never recover. And now, we face more change.
There is a new generation coming on the scene with imagination, energy, determination and a new set of skills. In many ways, my generation has stood in the way. We had a lock on jobs, wealth, decision-making. Think about it: this election was as much a referendum on the Boomer Generation as it was on George Bush. (OK, there’s something I’ll write more about. Stay tuned.) Who is it that will inspire this new generation to achieve in the context of a new global economy?
Our role is changing. It’s up to us now to identify the core values that will outlast us, and do what we can to invest in a new generation. It’s no time to retreat. It’s time to engage.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp, 2008