Thursday, April 03, 2008

Cabinets, Committees, and Me

I recently sat at the table with Senators, President Bush, NATO heads of State, the cabinet of Iraq, the governors of the Federal Reserve, trustees of the school where I teach, and the Vestry of the church to which I belong. We concluded our meeting with a sense of relief that the matter had been decided, but also with a sense of dread that we would face second guessing and people personally hurt by what we decided.

During our meetings, the more we wished aloud for other options and chased other possibilities, the more we saw a wall with no other ways through, and its narrow gate closing. For all that, we also felt like we were taking a gamble.

We've made our decisions, for better and for worse, and consequences are rolling in. "It's socialism for the rich," says one about the Fed's recent decision to assist the buyout of Bear Stearns, while another says, "A failure to act would have been economic disaster for everyone." Al Maliki misjudged the strength of his forces and misjudged the time and has irrevocably weakened his floundering government in Iraq, or else he has finally demonstrated his will to break the stronghold of tribal militias in Iraq. We have hurt church programs and slapped faithful staff in the face, say some; and we have responded sensibly and hopefully to current circumstances, within parameters set up by decisions made years ago say others.

Cabinets and committees have run the world for the last two or three hundred years. I've taught about it, and read about it; now I'm in it.

The feeling recalls Abe Lincoln's fit of temper when accused of ruining his party's chances out of pure personal ambition. "I have tried to do what's best, you know how I have, and now to be accused of doing it for selfish reasons. . . !" His secretary wrote that Lincoln mastered his temper at this point: "Well, things could be better, they could be worse. All I can do is what appears to be right." (Quoted from memory.)

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