On the eve of the Small Business Survival Summit coming to the Baltimore Convention Center September 7-9, I’m reminded that in my 51 years I have never seen an economy like this. Compounding that and perhaps more difficult to fix is the sense of hopelessness, frustration and despair on the face of many Americans. It truly seems like only yesterday when Barack Obama was swept into office and hailed as, not only the chief, but in many eyes the second coming of Christ! The only time I can remember such euphoria, relief or disgust was when Jimmy Carter replaced the disgraced and scandal ridden Richard Nixon. The country was begging for a kinder, gentler America and chose a peanut farmer, governor of Georgia to lead us back to prosperity and harmony. Sadly, we all know how that ended.
While the answers are complex, political and complicated, one thing seems apparent. I hear it on the streets, in bars and restaurants, schools and airports. Americans aren’t as nice as we use to be. Gone are days of please, thank you, how may I help you, only to be replaced with, where’s mine, get out of my way and if you don’t like it go somewhere else! We’re bitter, jaded, angry, frustrated and, in my gut wrenching opinion, desperate for leadership! We are so ready for someone who looks like us, talks like us, feels our pain, to put their arm around us and make it all better, make it go away. Restore our place of respect around the world, stop the partisan gridlock in Washington, and walk in everyman’s shoes on Main Street, not Wall Street. How have we come so far yet not know which road to travel? The election of 2008 was historical in many ways. So much promise and potential riding on that inaugural address. Why does it all seem, just three years ago, to feel like it never happened?
More to our anger, frustration and pain, we now have the federal government suing 17 big banks, blaming them for the mortgage crisis that started much of this mess. Is this the same federal government that just bailed many of these banks out from the brink of disaster? How does Joe the Plumber rationalize that? We’ve gone from a nation of home ownership to pushing people out on the streets in the name of cutting our losses and insuring our bonuses. These same banks and this federal government that also pays lip service to helping small business get back on its feet. One small regional bank just gave its CEO an $800,000 cash bonus. How? Why? Even if we really stretch our imagination and pretend it was “earned,” does it not send the wrong message? Does the teller in the branch or the delicatessen owner who banks there fully comprehend that when they are just holding on for dear life, while more than 80 percent of business is classified in this country as small business, we are forced to take direction from those who have never done and don’t know how it works? There seems to be a simple disconnect when you have lifelong politicians and other legislators trying to stimulate and regulate an economy they don’t understand. How many who walk the hallowed halls of congress have ever been the butcher, baker or candlestick maker?
As we flounder locally, nationally and globally, it all seems to come back to one common denominator: “Where Have All The Leaders Gone?” By the way the mayoral election is shaping up in Baltimore, we’ll still be seeking an answer to that question!