Star Tannery, Virginia -- When the richest man in the world speaks, one would hope someone in our nation's capital would listen. But it looks like even when Warren Buffett offers free advice, politicians can't let go of their own precious agendas.
President Barack Obama and Congress on both sides of the aisle may want to rethink their hardheadedness about what is or is not included in the economic stimulus package. Buffett's candor reaches beyond partisanship and politics and makes perfect sense to Americans making fear-based financial decisions.
I know I'm going to risk this turning into my own version of Carol Burnett's "I Made a Fool of Myself Over John Foster Dulles;" but I have to fess up to having a special admiration for Mr. Buffett. I don't mean in the romantic sense or even the faux-romantic after-his-money sense.
At 12 years old Heir 1 chose Buffett's biography for a book report, thinking Dirtman and I didn't know the man and wouldn't be able to tell whether or not he'd actually read the book. He was forced to do so once he found out we did indeed know of Warren Buffett. He ended up enjoying the biography and becoming interested in current events in general.
So I connect Buffett with my son's intellectual coming-of-age. And how can you dislike a really rich guy who complains he doesn't pay enough taxes while recognizing we poor slobs pay too much?
We watched this fall as so many CEOs of corporations receiving government bailouts justified the distribution of exorbitant bonuses to the very upper management that had run business into a ditch. Meanwhile as CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett owned up to his disastrous decision to buy ConocoPhillips and apologized to shareholders in his annual letter.
The Oracle of Omaha, as he is known, appeared Monday morning on CNBC's Squawkbox and showed he had a better handle on the pulse of this country than Washington. Abandoning the usual metaphor of the Great Depression, he compared the economic downturn to the dawn of World War II, calling September's financial institution meltdown "an economic Pearl Harbor," referring to the December 7, 1941, Japanese surprise attack on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, that marked our entrance into World War II.
"When you have a Pearl Harbor, you have to know the nation is going to be united Dec. 8," he said. "Congressmen didn't go adding 8,000 earmarks on the declaration of war in 1941."
But it didn't take long for the Obama administration to defend their broad interpretation of what constitutes "economic stimulation." When asked to comment on Buffett's advice, press secretary Robert Gibbs insisted that all elements of the plan were absolutely vital to preventing economic collapse, which I assume is the goal of this emergency stimulus plan. And, again, I'm assuming this is an emergency plan since Congress was expected to digest all 1,071-pages overnight.
In keeping with the use of metaphors, Gibb compared it to a house on fire and whether you try to put out the fire in the whole house, or go one room at a time "while the rest of the house burns to ashes."
Actually, his comparison is just a little off mark. The Obama plan calls for some of the firemen to be pulled away from the burning house so that they can apply weatherproof paint to the barn out back. All would agree that the barn needs weatherproofing. But first the fire needs to be extinguished so nothing burns to ashes.
Now let's make something very clear: I am very much for spending money on education. I truly believe we need to fund research and implication of greener forms of energy. And nobody knows more than me the need for a healthcare plan.
Those are all necessary things. But they have nothing to do with pulling us from the brink of disaster, not to mention the state funding with earmarks so vague as to be downright porcine serving to further enrage critics.
"The minority has an obligation to support (the economic stimulus plan)," Buffett said Monday. "And there is an obligation by the majority to behave in a way that doesn't go inflaming the minority."
Is it possible? It's happened before - after Pearl Harbor and, in the younger generations' memory - after the 9/11 attacks. At least Buffett recognizes such events as equal to the level of urgency and fear Americans feel.
To ignore the advice of someone of Warren Buffett's knowledge and accomplishment is ignorant; to do it in the name of politics is obscene.
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