Marin Independent Journal Tuesday, May 19, 1987
By Dwayne Hunn
Forty years ago, the United States was so productive that America felt compelled to rebuild most of Europe and Asia so that nations there could recover from war and be profitable enough to buy our goods. Today, our trade deficit, rather than our productivity, sets world records. Once our educational system stood out for the world to emulate. We proudly proclaimed bow ready our youth were to face the world’s challenges. Today, we look to copy not only other nations’ production techniques, but also how they teach and mold their young. The proud inflection of the “Can-do nations!” now leaves many with the hollow sound of the “Can-do-nation?”
For many of us living and working at the local level, these national and international issues seem too large to handle. Many who read and think about these issues may be upset that America has been slipping, but if we don’t feel our local efforts have an impact on national and international issues, we only cringe and go on with life.
We seem to have forgotten the roots of America’s democratic and economic structure. We have forgotten that local politics is the source of America’s strength and long-term resiliency.
Just consider the long-term effect of an actual Marin local government decision, as it is played out numerous times throughout one of the richest counties of America.
A Novato developer wants to build a significant number of affordable housing units so that a better jobs/housing balance can help reduce freeway gridlock. The developer is blocked because the neighbors oppose the density, or question the fumes from parking cars in the neighborhood, or distrust the “low income” people who will reside there. The neighbors win. Does their victory serve Marin and Sonoma? Does it bring America closer to energy self-sufficiency? Does it allow commuters to use their wasted commute time for skill-building, educational enrichment, or more quality time with their families?
Each time one of those projects fails or is delayed interminably, all of £he following happen:
- The extended commute to Sonoma, Napa, etc., increases the pollutants in the air our children must breathe.
- America’s reliance on expensive imported fuels increases as does the national debt we pass on to the young.
- The percentage of household income that goes to housing and transit climbs while the money and time available for skill, education and family time declines proportionally.
Marin has one of the higher percentages of single-parent households in the nation. Thirteen percent of Novato’s households are run by single parents whose median income is $15,676. These households desperately need affordable housing in Marin. Are local officials aware of how their decisions on issues like parks, child care centers and affordable housing have an impact on these important parents and children? Are they aware of how their decisions form the foundation of a strong America, whose core is a secure family, or a shaky America, whose footing teeters over a troubled family?
In an increasingly competitive world, enlightened leadership requires much more than concern about one’s neighborhood or high-sounding speeches about what ‘America’s’ world role should be. Visionary local officials must make decisions that reflect concern about the long-term strength of this nation. Patriotic local leaders must weigh each of their decisions in terms of how they help prepare those of lower and middle incomes in Marin to compete among the 5 billion who now inhabit the increasingly interdependent nations of Planet Earth.
It is more difficult for local leaders to avoid the immediate consequences of their decision than it is for those cushioned by the miles to Washington, D.C. Therefore, it is often easier for local leaders to follow the desires of vocal advocates of self interest. Too many local leaders fail to recognize that a constituency larger than neighborhood groups ends their leadership, namely —the children of tomorrow, single parents, the American family structure, and all of us negatively affected by our nation’s declining competitive capacity and increasing trade deficit.
Leadership isn’t easy. It is difficult to lead because in order to lead without too much pain the education of those led’ must move in step. Christ exemplified the pain of leadership out of sync with- the masses. Churchill learned how tortuous trying to educate others to lead can be, as he tried to mobilize his lethargic peers to action.
Far-sighted leadership for the common good is difficult. For America to grow strong, however, more courage an& vision and less parochial and petty rationalization must go into local decision making.
Dwayne Hunn, a former Peace Corps volunteer, has a Ph.D. in Public Finance & Administration and has taught at the college level in Southern California.