Why wait? When did waiting become such a political sin?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Why wait?
President Obama addresses Congress on health care

FACE to FACE POLITICS: In 2013, President Obama addresses a joint session of the U.S. Congress to talk about health care. Photograph by Lawrence Jackson, released for public use.

NOTE FROM DR. WAYNE BAKER: This week, we welcome back our popular contributing columnist Terry Gallagher.

What’s the penalty on waiting?

Our idiom is loaded with proverbs calling on us to make decisions, to get off the pot, to strike while the iron is hot. And one of the worst things a politician can be accused of is “kicking the can down the road.” The phrase is usually taken as a synonym for procrastination, for adopting stopgap measures to avoid making the big decisions necessary to solve a problem once and for all.

Democrats accuse Republicans of doing it when they pass short-term budget fixes to avoid a government shutdown. Just last week, President Obama was lambasted by conservatives who say he’s kicking the can down the road by not dealing with the immigration crisis in a comprehensive way.

In a new interview this week, psychologist Dr. Robert J. Wicks recalls recently speaking to a gathering of U.S. representatives and senators when one senator admitted that he thinks the greatest problem facing congress is: “We don’t have enough time to think.”

We all face complex problems in public life, and in smaller settings, too, where comprehensive solutions are hard to come by, and stopgap measures work perfectly fine.

Social Security, for example. Alarmists have been saying for generations that the program will go bankrupt by some date, usually decades away, unless we cut benefits this very moment.

It turns out that we’ve been able to make modest adjustments every couple of years to keep the system solvent. Then a couple years later, we make another few modest adjustments. And government goes on.

So maybe we should kick more cans down the road, and give future generations the chance to tackle the complex problems facing our society. Or, when their time comes, to kick a few more cans a little further down the road.

What do you think? (Do you have enough time—to think?)

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Why wait? How do we decide what to fix first?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Why wait?
Spuyten Duyvil derailment site from Henry Hudson Bridge hill

WHEN ‘KICKING IT DOWN THE ROAD’ ISN’T SAFE: Last year, this train derailed in the Bronx, killing 4 and injuring 59 of 115 the passengers. The immediate cause was a failure of the engineer to properly slow the train in an area of tight curves. However, federal regulators had identified such curves as a problem; they called for installation of new automated controls nationwide; then they decided to delay the requirements until 2015.

Yesterday’s post argued that kicking the can down the road might actually be the right strategy at the right moment, that by taking stopgap measures now we might be able to come up with better solutions later. And that kind of procrastination can work on the household level just as effectively as it does on the political scene.

All homeowners know the checkbook arithmetic that goes into calculating whether it’s time to replace the roof, or to replace the windows first.

Government officials wrestle with similar challenges: If that bridge isn’t falling down right now, maybe we can replace the public library. But it’s pretty clear that at some point, we have to stop with the delaying tactics and face the tough choices.

A couple of years ago, talking about his city’s budget problems, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel told the New York Times, “We can’t kick the can down the road because we’ve run out of road.”

Another NYT story from earlier this year, about risks in pension funds, said: “This is not something that can wait a few years. If people kick the can down the road, they’ll find it went off a cliff.”

Some problems can’t wait, and need to be solved now. When you’ve run out of road, you should stop kicking the can.

What problems do you wish our leaders wouldn’t wait before fixing?

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Why wait? Why did Abe Lincoln wait to free the slaves?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Why wait?

NOTE FROM DR. WAYNE BAKER: This week, we welcome back our popular contributing columnist Terry Gallagher.

5.1.2

Click on Lincoln to visit our LINCOLN RESOURCE PAGE, which links to a lot of fascinating reading on Abe and the Civil War.

When is waiting the best policy? And when can we not wait any longer?

One of the most challenging questions for admirers of Abraham Lincoln (and there are many of them among OurValues readers) is why he waited so long to emancipate slaves.

Although he denounced slavery in his campaigns for the Senate and the presidency, Lincoln took no steps to end the oppression when he became president. When his generals freed slaves owned by rebels in their regions, Lincoln ordered them to stop.

He made his priorities clear: “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.”

Most biographers agree now that Lincoln’s equivocation was a complex balancing act to keep slave-holding border states in the Union, to keep Britain from coming into the war in support of the Confederacy, to encourage enlistment among Northerners who supported the Union but not racial equality.

After the Union victory at Antietam, Lincoln felt the time had come when he could issue the Emancipation Proclamation. But even that was equivocal, freeing only slaves in rebel-held territories, and months away.

For the nation’s 4 million slaves, how much waiting was enough?

This song cited in his memoir by one-time slave Frederick Douglass provides a clue:
Run to Jesus — face the danger—
I don’t expect to stay
Much longer here.

During the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, we’ve all seen and read a lot about Lincoln: What do you think about his decisions?

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS THIS SUMMER: In recent years, Terry Gallagher has written about a wide range of topics; you can read more than 100 of his past columns by clicking on this link. We invite you to comment (below) or to share this column on Facebook (use the blue-“f” icons).

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Categories: Freedom

Why wait? Know what happens as soon as you quit smoking?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Why wait?
Quit smoking2

CLICK ONCE ON THIS POSTER, based on CDC data, to see a larger version. Then, you can click again to see the poster in even more detail.

Don’t wait! Do it now!

This week’s Our Values posts have looked at some of the benefits of waiting, and why it is sometimes better to postpone a tough decision.

But that’s definitely a wrong strategy when it comes to your health. If you’re a smoker and want to quit—and are waiting until the end of the year to make that a New Year’s resolution—you’ll miss out on months of better health between now and then.

Many long-term smokers think that they’ve already done permanent damage to their hearts and lungs, and underestimate what they’ll get out of quitting right now.

But the Centers for Disease Control says the benefits kick in nearly immediately. “Within 20 minutes after you smoke that last cigarette, your body begins a series of changes that continue for years,” according to their studies.

As the poster explains, “Within 20 minutes—Your heart rate and blood pressure drop.” Click on the poster to read it in more detail.

Exercise has some of the same benefits, no matter how late you start. “It’s never too late to start exercising,” according to the National Institutes of Health. “Exercise has benefits at any age.”

So let’s stop kicking this can down the road, unless we’re kicking an actual can down an actual road.

Know other life changes that shouldn’t wait?

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS THIS SUMMER: In recent years, Terry Gallagher has written about a wide range of topics; you can read more than 100 of his past columns by clicking on this link. We invite you to comment (below) or to share this column on Facebook (use the blue-“f” icons).

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Why wait? Do you know how to play Kick The Can?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Why wait?

NOTE FROM DR. WAYNE BAKER: This week, we welcome back our popular contributing columnist Terry Gallagher.

Spoonful website rules for Kick the Can

CLICK THIS SNAPSHOT of the “Spoonful” website to learn the rules of Kick the Can. It’s a variation on the familiar childhood game of Hide and Seek.

How did we come up with the phrase “kicking the can down the road” as a way of saying “to procrastinate”?

Apparently, it’s got nothing to do with the children’s game called Kick the Can, which is a mashup of Tag and Hide and Seek.

A note on Wikipedia says, “As outdoor and unstructured play of children continues to dwindle, the game of Kick the Can is becoming less and less known to each generation.”

No one in my neighborhood ever played it, and I bet my kids never heard of it.

But the politician’s game of “kicking the can down the road”? That looks like it will never go out of style.

In 2007, the phrase was featured in the American Journalism Review’s invaluable “Cliché Corner,” with citations from the Washington Post, Reuters, the Weekly Standard and others.

Last December, it was dinged in a column on the New York Times “After Deadline” blog written by Philip B. Corbett, the paper’s associate managing editor for standards.

After citing an instance of the phrase in a story about the budget standoff, Corbett said: “This colloquial ‘kick the can’ cliché has been rampant in Washington lately, but that doesn’t mean we have to adopt it. In fact, it’s a very good reason to avoid it.”

Avoiding the phrase might be a good idea. But it’s probably also time for political leaders to make some tough decisions, to stop kicking the can down the road.

So, what do you think of Kick the Can? The game—or the political process.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS THIS SUMMER: In recent years, Terry Gallagher has written about a wide range of topics; you can read more than 100 of his past columns by clicking on this link. We invite you to comment (below) or to share this column on Facebook (use the blue-“f” icons).

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