Saturday, February 14, 2009

Reach out To Me, Mr. President!

Driving in to work the other day I heard the news on KNX, Judd Gregg backed out of the Secretary of Commerce job. First Richardson, now Gregg. Richardson, I understand, "Pay for Play" allegations can be a little embarrassing. The Judd Gregg thing is puzzling. Sounds like Judd wanted the job...and then got nervous. But hey, politicians are fair weather friends. Vote public opinion and you'll have a House to live in till the rest of your days; go against the grain, vote your heart and you better start looking homeward.. In this case, it may have been vote against your party or deny your party that extra vote in the Senate, but who can tell. At least he didn't leave you in the lurch after a couple of months on the job.

So, Mr. President, I want to help out. After minimal consultation with family and friends, I am throwing my hat into the ring. Reach out to me, Mr. President! I can do the Commerce job. After getting twice burned, I don't expect you to leap at the prospect without a little background on my credentials. I looked for an application at, but couldn't find the listing for Secretary of Commerce, so I hope you'll understand my approach. Call it an open resume.

I should begin by stating that I am a registered Republican. I joined the Grand Old Party right out of graduate school on the advice of my old friend Hobart. Hobart pointed out that nearly everyone he knew had started out a Democrat, but once they achieved some career goals and bought a first house they moved over to the GOP. I didn't have a house and at the time was earning significantly below the poverty line but I took Hobart's words to heart. I wanted to have a house and I certainly wanted to increase my income so I figured that joining the GOP would sort of bootstrap the rest of it. I do now have a house and my earnings place me somewhat over the poverty line (family of four) so I guess it worked. Thank you, Hobart. But I must confess, Mr. President, even though I have been a registered Republican lo these many years, even though I have voted in nearly all the Republican primaries (except the last two); I must confess that in no general election have I brought myself to actually vote Republican. Whether this be a failing on the part of myself and my conscience or, perhaps, the GOP itself, I cannot say. However, I do feel it incumbent upon me to come clean at this juncture, my possible first foray into Washington politics. Despite my lack of a clear ideological compass, should you feel the need to reach out across party lines, Mr. President, I stand ready.

But enough of my political affiliations, what are my qualifications to assume the office of Secretary of Commerce? What is it in my background that allows me to hope, even imagine that I could make a contribution at such an exalted level? Long time readers will note that I have some acquaintance with software. This acquaintance springs from working within a large software development organization supporting the DOD. Thus situated, I have some experience with government procurement practices, both in nascent form when a program is still but an idea as well as in full bore operational form when the full weight and measure of the government regulatory practices can be brought to bear. I must admit that knowledge of these traditions has not fostered in me an inordinate appreciation of their value. The correspondence between metrics and accomplishments remains, for me, an unproven relationship. The ability of small groups to create vast achievements contrasted with the ability of large groups to spend correspondingly large amounts of money without creating similarly large capabilities has fostered in me perhaps a cynical view of the process as it is exercised by large government programs. And yet I exist quite happily within that world. Mr. President, I stand ready.

I do have strong opinions, backed by quantitative analysis, of the directions our government - dare I say it - my cabinet department might take as elixir for our current economic impairment. Past readers will note that within this column, I have proposed "making well" the tens of thousands of mortgages falling to foreclosure each month. I have provided projections of the expense of such balm and noted that the cost is well within the scope of funding applied to TARP and the latest government economic fix. These opinions and ideas are not without a certain historical basis in economic theory. John Maynard Keynes in The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money wrote

"a large proportion of our positive activities depend on spontaneous optimism rather than mathematical expectations, whether moral or hedonistic or economic"

Pretty exciting stuff, but what better way to create a little spontaneous optimism than to fix all those bad mortgages. Tax breaks, that extra $5 to $10 a week, do not create optimism. The most likely scenario is that the money will go to one more fast food outing, leading to heartburn and yet one more percentage point in our country's embrace of obesity. Consider an alternative. Create a symbol of hope, a stars-and-stripes embossed government-standard envelope containing mortgage relief, delivered to a foreclosee's door. The contents of the envelope document a promise to make the unmanageable house loan, thanks to a change in the nation's economic policy, now manageable. Talk about raising the spirits. And what better way to celebrate than putting some newly-spendable cash into the local economy. Would it be expensive to make all those defaulting loans well? Of course it would, but the analysis (see the archives at datacorner for the numbers) suggests this fix is way cheaper than proposals currently on the table. Imagine the impact on national morale, immediately lifting what Keyes called the "depressed animal spirits" now dragging out the recession. Mr. President, I stand ready.

So Mr. President. Reach out to me, a lapsing Republican, an engineer, a software developer, husband and father of two - I hew to academia's tradition of putting the most important attributes last. All I can offer is pragmatism, facility with numbers, and an adequate dose of common sense (although writing this blog may give lie to the last observation). Is this the ground from which the next Secretary of Commerce will spring? Much as the carefully tended tomato seeds refuse to spring from the planter in my backyard, I doubt it. But should you make the offer, I pledge to continue your tradition of complete sentences noted by Andy Borowitz in his November 18 column, and I do remain untainted by any appearance, actuality, or even opportunity for "pay for play" or tax dissimulation.

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