With The Avengers, comic Obi Wan Stan Lee brings us a decade of superhero movie-dom to the big screen. Middle-aged men, and quite a few ladies have been reliving their childhood and teenage years over the past couple weekends as they watch Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and The Incredible Hulk save the world from Loki and his plan for universal domination.
I know, I know. For the uninitiated it sounds dorky and like a waste of ten bucks. But suspend reality for over two hours and watch the story closely and you realize that there are a couple lessons here that a few … ok … a lot of politicians in Washington could learn.
The first lesson is strategy. In one scene, our heroes are on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s flying headquarters and surrounded by Loki’s army of fiends. Captain America asks Iron Man what the plan of attack is. Iron Man’s one word response: “Attack”.
Arguably that’s the strategy most Americans wanted Washington to use to combat the recession of 2007. What Americans got, unfortunately, was gridlock. In 2008, the freeze in the flow of credit was thought to be either at the heart of the economic slow-down, or threatened to make the recession worse as businesses saw access to capital become near nonexistent. Congress’ response: having the House of Representatives vote twice on whether to approve the Bush Administration’s Toxic Asset Relief Program.
The sniping continued into President Obama’s first 100 days, first with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, then with the Affordable Care Act. No one bothered to step up and play Captain America and lead. Rather than attacking the problem of lack of aggregate demand with a properly targeted stimulus package, Mr. Obama allowed Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to turn the $800 billion package into a grab bag of goodies, the effects of which are still being debated.
The second lesson is working together, no matter the differences in personality. Tony Stark’s whimsical, snarky playboy clashed with the Boy Scout that is Steve Rogers. As for The Hulk, he tried his best to not clash with anyone. Getting past partisan differences in Washington appears to be a lost art.
Congressmen who were willing to work across the aisle with each other are becoming harder to find. Gone are the legendary across-the-aisle friendships of Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch. While current Speaker of the House John Boehner speaks of the good personal relationship he has with President Obama, I’m sure it pales in comparison with the relationship Tip O’Neil had with President Ronald Reagan. Even former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich acknowledged his ability to work with President Bill Clinton to address budget deficits.
The last lesson: being outgunned is no excuse for giving up. The Avengers never backed down from a fight. Quitting was never an option. It was at the darkest hour that they found the resources to win.
Washington can’t lay claim to that mantle. Rather than putting the deficit and debt reduction recommendations of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (the Simpson-Bowles Plan) into law, Congress spent time criticizing Mr. Obama for failing to lead on deficit reduction, while Mr. Obama quite frankly ignored the recommendations altogether.
Deficits and debt combine to create a potential drag on the economy. Paying the national debt means fewer dollars are being put toward investing in infrastructure. Financing the deficit with more debt means the private sector gets crowded out from borrowing funds. Higher interest rates caused by the demand for loanable funds by the federal government means consumers will put off purchases of homes, cars, and durable goods, the very purchases that drive an economy.
Sure, The Avengers are just a bunch of fictional characters that help escape the realities of everyday life, but that’s the beauty of the super hero genre. You can liken it to Homer’s Odyssey where the tall tales give us a lesson steeped in tragedy and heroics but lessons none the less.
Maybe the White House and Congress need to do a Peter Pan, find their inner childhood, and start believing that anything is possible. Maybe it’s time for them to assemble, send up a war cry of “yes we can” loud enough to wake the Norse gods, and do battle with the overwhelming issues that Americans want to see addressed and resolved. Come on Washington. Is it so much to ask?