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James Ferragut, Published February 28 2010

Ferragut: Optimism, hope stomped down by vicious schoolyard politics

I recently had a breakfast meeting with the president of a company from Germany. His products are more technologically advanced and higher quality than his competitors. As a result, his products are more expensive than the American market is willing to bear.

He said: “The German technology mindset conflicts with the USA’s ‘We want it quick, we want it cheap, and if I buy it, don’t bother me for two years’ mentality.” We all know this, but it hits hard when we hear it from a credible outside source.

Wanting it “cheap and quick” is a concept embedded in us. It also applies to the political process. If we look at the divisive politics in play these past few weeks, it’s clear that short-term, partisan self-interest is the only thing on the bargaining table. Long-term perspective isn’t embraced, understood or tolerated. We want this mess fixed now. And we mean NOW.

Washington’s partisan gridlock has never been worse. Being a U.S. senator or congressman has lost its cache. The prestige of that once-esteemed position has faded; their power has been diminished by process; their golden perks scrutinized.

Most importantly, the ability to solve problems and drive change has vanished. Just ask Democratic Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., and most recently, Evan Bayh, D-Ind. They’ve fought enough battles and can’t stomach the process any longer.

The fact that the economic meltdown was the result of eight years of mismanaged politics by both political parties has been conveniently forgotten. Understanding and correcting the complexities of the economy is nearly impossible. Throw a poorly defined, endless and costly war into the mix. Add a bewilderingly inequitable health care system for good measure. Then expect one man to fix it all in 12 months?

It’s time to put on the brakes. Politicking is preventing problem solving at a time when we need it the most. Gridlock is mocking the system.

Name-calling, pointing fingers, denying responsibility, taking credit or assigning blame are for the schoolyard. Minds that live in narrow places are dangerous; politicians and their mouthpieces on the extreme right and left are perfect examples.

The election of Barack Obama was to be a new beginning for the country. My naïve optimism has been stomped out by the realities of politics. The cards are stacked. The game is rigged. I should have known better.

Ferragut is an advertising executive and regular contributor to The Forum’s commentary page.