Saturday, November 14, 2009

In Search of the Quick Fix

I’m continually surprised by how short people’s memories are. Watching the "commentators" on Fox as they opine about (and misrepresent) the economic mess, the health care debate, and the president’s deliberations on sending more troops to Afghanistan, I wonder how it is that a lot of my fellow citizens have come to believe that all of our problems should be resolved—or nearly so—by now, one year into Mr. Obama’s term.

Americans believe in the quick fix. From reality TV shows about transformations seemingly wrought overnight with plastic surgery to commercials from pharmaceutical companies that promise relief from intractable conditions to beauty creams that tout instant results, we’ve become a culture of impatience and false expectations.

If you’ve ever had major surgery—of any kind—you know it’s not a cakewalk. The healing process can be long and quite painful. A friend of mine had shoulder surgery this summer; his doctor told him that it could be up to a year before he’ll be completely pain-free. That's reality.

On a long plane flight this summer, I watched an episode of “Make Me a Supermodel” (yes, I know), in which a beautiful young woman with very bad teeth spent 24 hours getting her teeth fixed—drilling, grinding, implants, the whole thing—and was expected to (and did) walk the runway a few hours later, without complaint or apparent discomfort. That’s just not how it generally goes, as anyone who’s had dental surgery can attest.

It took decades to bring the country to its knees economically and culturally. The girlfriends’ rule of thumb for getting over a bad relationship is that it should take up to as much as half as long as the relationship lasted. With that math, we should not expect to be back on our feet for at least 4 years, if we just count the W/Cheney years. And some of our problems go back a lot farther than that.

The people on all sides who are saying that Mr. Obama “hasn’t done anything” don’t seem to understand that fixing problems of this magnitude—and so many of them at once—is an excruciatingly slow and complex process. And it’s not like he’s the only guy in the room. There are a lot of other people involved: one political party that is mostly engaged in making sure that things stay as they are until the midterm elections, one party that squabbles within itself endlessly about everything, and a whole lot of people in the middle who are looking for a quick and painless fix.

It's going to take time. Some things are still going to get worse before they get better. So, fasten your seat belts. And adjust your expectations accordingly.

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