04 December 2008

Discipline is discipline

Last evening’s news and this morning’s newspaper brought more reports of the big three automakers and their plight. The company representatives are making their way to Washington again this week, their detailed proposals for how they will use the funds they want Congress to appropriate having been sent ahead of them. Thirty four billion dollars is hard for me to understand. For this trip these executives are travelling in hybrid vehicles produced by the companies they lead. Too bad they didn’t think of that on their own and make that choice in the first place. The private jets of their last jaunt to Washington were an unfortunate mistake.

I think most people are divided on the question of giving the auto manufacturers the funding they seek. On one hand millions of jobs are at stake, those employed in industries supporting the manufacture of American vehicles reaching far beyond Detroit. On the other the companies clearly have been badly run, leadership short-sighted and greedy, labor unrealistic about what is equitable and what the industry can actually bear.

Beyond that simplistic assessment, I think most people want Congress to make demands of the automotive industry, requiring self-regulation, tauter business plans, more concern for the country as a whole, increased investment in more earth-friendly vehicles. And, I think most folks want their representatives in Washington to express on their behalf the disgust and disappointment they feel. I fear, however, that Congress will not be able to take that route – the high road, so to speak.

It’s hard to demand restraint from one quarter when the quarter we inhabit is not above reproach. Alarming reports on the associations of Michigan congressmen and from where their comfortable millions have come are probably a mere hint of the situation in which manyt of our elected officials sitting in judgment of the auto industry find themselves. When you’re on the take, you can’t very well demand something different from another involved in the same questionable behavior. Members of Congress, for fear of being called to account themselves, are probably not going to do or say what really needs to be done or said.

But, before I allow myself to travel too far along this cozy road of self-righteousness, my “how could theys” fervent and incredulous, I’m going to call myself down. Tal made a banana pudding this morning to take with him to a family gathering in Aiken. A pudding doesn’t take a full box of the Nabisco Nilla wafers he prefers. The leftovers are in the pantry. Were I to put those extra cookies in a bowl here on the counter next to the computer, could I retrain myself and eat only one serving, that being 11 cookies. (Yes, I know that statistic.) Could I manage to have just a couple? Or, would I, true to form, not stop until all the cookies were history? No one would ever know. Tal wouldn’t notice they were all gone. What would it matter?

Admittedly, cookies are a little thing and the auto industry is a big thing. But discipline is discipline. If I cannot discipline myself in little things, should I assume I can expect more of another? Yes, we as individuals, as Americans, as constituents, as those who elected a congress to speak for us have to make some decision where the automotive industry is concerned and make that decision soon. But, our self-righteousness is out of place. We are all players in this mess. If I’m going to say “here’s where you are wrong,” I’m also going to have to self-aware enough to add an “and here’s where I am guilty.” While we cannot, any single one of us, effect much or any immediate change in Detroit or in Congress, we most surely can in ourselves. And, frankly, what a feat that would be.

Jesus had a little something to say in this whole matter:

“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? “ Luke 16:10-13b
Well-said. By the way, all the Nillas are still in the pantry. I didn't try the "on the counter" test.

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