To dream the impossible dream

dream_capitolNebuchadnezzar was unhappy. The ancient Babylonian king had had a disturbing dream and needed to understand its meaning. He called in his seers and advisers, but he knew they were sycophants who would try to flatter and praise the king with their words. He was disturbed enough by the vision he had seen to want the unvarnished truth.

So he demanded something new of his circle of wise men: first, they must use their powers to divine what he had dreamed, then they would give him their interpretation.

Astonished, they tried to sweet-talk the king into revealing his dream first, but he was adamant. If you are really as gifted as you say you are, he said, tell me my dream and what it means.

The astrologers replied to the king, “No one on earth can tell the king his dream! And no king, however great and powerful, has ever asked such a thing of any magician, enchanter, or astrologer! The king’s demand is impossible. No one except the gods can tell you your dream, and they do not live here among people.” The king was furious when he heard this, and he ordered that all the wise men of Babylon be executed. — Daniel 2:10-12, NLT

When the king demands the impossible, the man who wants to keep both his head and his job had better smile, agree without reservation and get to work, hoping that when things inevitably fail, someone else will get the blame.

President Obama had the misfortune to inherit a housing meltdown which precipitated a credit crisis which shocked the US economy. These things happened in the larger context of a global financial contraction. A wise man would have focused his limited power on rebuilding confidence and strength in the economy before embarking on any bold new initiatives.

The President demanded the impossible: he would restart the stalled economy while hobbling the industries and demonizing the entrepreneurs his party disliked; he would increase the cost of energy in order to force the country to adopt “green” technologies; he would increase federal regulation of markets and business; he would demand historic increases in government spending and taxes; and he would expand government programs while creating a new federal healthcare entitlement.

Two and a half years later, with the economy “unexpectedly” worse, unemployment stuck above 9%, government debt growing at a dizzying rate and consumer confidence draining away, the President has decided that the reason the impossible didn’t work the first time is that government just didn’t try hard enough. With a few more programs, another trillion or so for “shovel-ready” construction projects, a few more regulatory tweaks and a new menu of incentives and taxes, America will finally get back to work.

Insanity is doing the same dumb thing over and over again but expecting a different outcome.

The unfortunate truth is that this administration has precisely the wrong set of political instincts and experience to build a thriving economy. They know how to slow it down, but not how to speed it up. They know how to drain it of life by transfusing its blood into the ever-expanding public sector, but not how to create new life. Every purported solution the President’s advisers have tried so far has made the problem worse.

So, for instance, the EPA is rolling out new job-killing regulations that will increase energy costs and decrease energy supply. Job-boosting trade agreements with friendly countries are rotting in the basement of the White House. Profitable companies like Gibson Guitar, among the few which still manufacture their products in the US, are being harassed by federal wood inspectors. The National Labor Relations Board is threatening to hobble a huge new Boeing plant in South Carolina. The ubiquitous and inexpensive incandescent light bulb is about to become illegal. Mandated fuel economy standards on future cars and trucks have been increased to impossible highs. A new and unaccountable federal agency has been created to safeguard consumer credit “rights.”

And Washington is astonished that US economy is moribund.

A little humility in the highest offices of the land is greatly needed right now, and would be welcomed by most of us.

It was humility in the face of an impossible situation that led Daniel to accept Nebuchadnezzar’s challenge. Daniel didn’t trust in his own cleverness or insight or intelligence, but humbly acknowledged that what the king was asking for would require a miracle, and miracles only come from God.

So Daniel prayed, God revealed the king’s dream, and Daniel successfully answered the king’s impossible challenge, not taking credit for himself but giving credit to God:

The king asked, “Can you tell me what my dream was and what it means?” Daniel replied, “There are no wise men, enchanters, magicians, or fortune-tellers who can reveal the king’s secret. But there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in the future. Now I will tell you your dream and the visions you saw as you lay on your bed.” — Daniel 2:26-28, NLT

Our nation’s problems won’t be solved by the failed political gambits of more power to Washington, more ambitious central planning and ever more lavish spending of borrowed money. What is needed is more humility in our leadership, more humility in our assumptions about what government can and cannot do, and a frank acknowledgment that our nation is in deep over its head, desperately in need of a miracle.

We Americans like to think that if we simply apply enough force to any impossible problem, it will yield to our will. So far, the American economy has stubbornly resisted Washington’s best efforts at CPR. The patient is dying and the doctor is too arrogant to know when he’s been beat. Time to pray for a miracle.

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  1. Great writing as always, Charlie.

    So many changes in such a short time, and by a group of policy wonks who have utterly failed to convince us that they are unusually smart or that their plans will naturally improve things. And that’s a basic concept from Saul Alinsky’s teaching – before you organize a group of people to take down an oppressive system, they must have confidence that you can help them build a new system that is better. Obama and his gang simply haven’t inspired that confidence.

    Without confidence, businesses adopt a conservative ‘wait and see’ management strategy. Or if they are being targeted, they adopt an even more stifling ‘how do we become less of a target’ management strategy. That’s why companies in the business aviation industry are so angry right now. The business aviation sector was making a slow comeback until the President’s demagoguery of ‘corporate jet owners.’ Prospective buyers canceled their orders, because they did not want to be targeted by the government. And who can blame them.

    Hope and change are good things, but this many changes, accompanied by so much uncertainty stemming from an oversized and overbearing government, have been very bad for America.