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Hope Is For The Hopeful

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This year has seen a record number of prognostications regarding expectations for our future. Many were pessimistic, while others were downright gloomy. At times, though, the gloom seemed out of place, since more often than not it was delivered at $1,000-a-plate banquets to listeners of obvious affluence and representing both parties. The record amount of campaign contributions also belies the poverty that is supposed to abound.

However, amid the predictions of a recession (or even depression), unemployment, stagflation and terrorism threats, occasionally there surfaced a word of hope–a reason to believe that somehow we might survive all this. Even the long political campaign that is thankfully ending, with all its bombast, boiled down to each party trying to present itself and its candidates as the custodian of hope in a world of despair.

That softly spoken word of hope should be raised to a shout, for there is much to be hopeful for. This period of self-examination will be beneficial only if it is kept in proper context. It is okay to focus on the hole in the doughnut as long as we don’t forget that it is surrounded by a tasty morsel.

I am reminded of a story that I have related once before in this column, but it seems appropriate to repeat it at this time. The true story was told by H. Roe Bartle, popular mayor of Kansas City, at the 1961 National Association of Life Underwriters Convention in Denver. Bartle reminded everyone that over a 10-month period in the early 1930s, 744 U.S. banks failed. In 1933, the first act of newly elected President Roosevelt was to declare a “bank holiday” which closed all banks and which did not let them reopen until their solvency had been established.

Bartle said that at the time he was president of 7 banks, all of which were closed. He, along with the other bank directors, met and concluded that with a relatively small cash infusion they could meet the criteria to reopen. And so they set out to raise the cash. Bartle said this was without a doubt the most frustrating period of his life. He could not borrow any money–no one was lending. He could not sell anything–no one was buying. And his liquid assets were all tied up in the banks. The other directors had the same experience. There was no money available.

Then he remembered that his life insurance agent had often told him that if he ever needed money his policies were a source. He took all his policies down to Kansas City Life, dumped them on his agent’s desk and said, “Is it true that I can get cash out of these policies?” The agent confirmed that policy loans were available immediately. Those policy loans, as well as similar loans by the other directors, provided the cash to reopen the banks when there was no other hope. Bartle also said that the availability of that cash was responsible for many millions in return in subsequent years. We are indeed a lifeline of hope to those who have bought our products wisely.

But hope must be nurtured, or it will turn to despair. In the final analysis, this may be our ultimate challenge as we work our way through the current economic crisis. It is not enough just to promise hope. We need to end the self-flagellation that has been so much a part of our recent history. Instead we need to turn to more positive pursuits.

I have listened to the critics; they have offered little, if anything, that has been truly constructive. The most obvious result of all the critical campaign rhetoric has been the almost total destruction of confidence in our leaders, from the state legislators to Congress and to the White House. It is hard to lead when approval ratings are 9% to 20%.

Actually, I am writing this on the eve of our election, so I don’t know at this time who will be elected to any of the offices. But this much I do know–we cannot continue on this path of destructive politics if we are to continue as a world leader and maintain a sound economy.

For the past 8 years the mainstream media and the Democratic leadership have been on a relentless crusade to destroy President Bush whose “original sin” was to win a tight election. Never mind that there were 3 recounts affirming his win and his re-election by a comfortable margin–the opposition remained bitter.

This is not to suggest that mistakes have not been made; all the presidents make them. But when you destroy a presidency there is no bully pulpit with authority to rally the troops and the citizenry when a real crisis arises. That is a dangerous and risky agenda. History will, I believe, reveal that much of the criticism and venom was misplaced.

Tomorrow we will have elected new leaders, state and national, and they deserve our support whether we voted for them or not. But if all we do is start plotting revenge and how best to destroy the rascals who won, then there is little hope that things will get better. It is hard, I know, but craving for power by politicians and the media must start to take a backseat to the country’s best interest. Hope does indeed “spring eternal,” but only for the hopeful.


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