Reporter's Note: President Obama is preparing for his big bipartisan meeting on health care. I’m preparing for a town hall meeting with voters here in Texas. I’m also preparing my daily letter to the White House, which hopefully he’ll have time to read amid his busy schedule.
Tom Foreman | BIO
Dear Mr. President,
Hooray! The sun has returned to Texas and I’m shedding fleece like an Alpaca in spring. Thank goodness. I and the rest of the gang on the bus were taking on certain paranoid attributes of the guys in Ice Station Zebra for a while. And what’s this I hear? Another winter storm bearing down on the northeast? I always try to be helpful, but I’ve had it with winter at this point. I should make it home by the weekend, but if the forecast does not improve I may just stay here. If you need help shoveling, count me out. Call Biden.
I went for a walk down by the river here in Austin with the mayor this afternoon, and it was quite nice. Mayors, as you know, can be a mixed bunch. Some know a lot, and some not so much; some are highly political, and some are more practical; and some are easy to talk with and that was Mayor Lee Leffingwell.
The fundamental question I posed as we strolled out of City Hall and down to the water’s edge was this: What has made Austin so successfully during this recession, while other cities have struggled so hard? He worked his way through the litany that I’ve heard from various sources this week. They have a broad base of diverse employers, including a tremendous number of small businesses. They also enjoy strong blocks of steady jobs in state government and the universities around town…those aren’t going anywhere. They have a vibrant arts community, good restaurants, a reasonable cost of living and the commutes, while worsening, aren’t yet crushing.
But it was Mayor Leffingwell’s first answer that most interested me. He said, “We’ve been lucky. We had several things in the right place at the right time, and they’ve come together for the good of our community.” I’m paraphrasing, of course, but it was pretty much like that.
I believe most of us make our luck. Through hard work, talent, intelligence, and persistence, we find ways to make success or at least to put ourselves in a likely position to succeed. But I’ve also seen plenty of people who have done all those things, and yet failed in their quest to…oh say, open a bakery, or make the softball team, or get a promotion at work.
In that context, many of the cities which are doing comparatively well in this recession actually made good decisions long ago that pointed them in the right direction. But I admired the mayor’s honesty in his answer, because I think it was one way of pointing out that plenty of places are suffering now through no fault of their own; markets changed, and politics changed, and technology changed in ways that they could not have effectively predicted.
Sometimes I think it is too easy for people to heap praise on places that succeed, like Austin, and to call them prescient; and simultaneously too simple to pile scorn on places that struggle, like Flint, Michigan, and call them ill-prepared for changing times, as if they should have seen it coming.
Maybe they should have. Or maybe they were unlucky. Or maybe a little of both.
Anyway, those were a few of my thoughts walking down by the river. Hope all is well with you and that your big summit on health care doesn’t turn into a handcuff-steel-cage-grudge match with the Congressional crowd. I suppose you’ll be too busy to call, so let’s just try for Friday.
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