USA: Gone Fishin’

I was in D.C. yesterday — where the economy is recession-proof (as long as you are a knowledge worker and part of the intelligentsia) and where you can’t get a decent cup of coffee until the morning sun is way up in the sky. Hey, I thought Obama was going to fix problems like this. I digress.

I go to Washington occasionally now as part of my work with Corporate Voices for Working Families. But I used to get there more often when I was working with Goodrich. At that point there would be years when I went once a month or more — to work with the Business Roundtable (smacking down Hillary’s health-care plan and other debacles, real or imagined) and other organizations. But mostly I went to meet and work with Bob Buehler, Goodrich’s vice president of government relations.

Buehler came to the nation’s capital in the late 50s or early 60s as a staff member of a Kansas congressman. Like most, he never left. He went from government to associations to lobbying to business. And Bob Buehler was a great communicator, although he never considered himself one. And certainly not in the formal sense that we think of today in terms of public relations (marketing?) or corporate communications.

But Bob Buehler knew everybody, or so it seemed. And I learned from him over the course of many years the value of forming relationships that were based on trust and mutual respect. Can’t see Bob Buehler on Twitter or Facebook. Sorry. He liked to “press the flesh” with real people, real friends. I digress again.

Anyway, Buehler had a notion about what led to the growth in the federal government — and the corresponding decline in American values, prestige, fortune and so on. (And no. It’s not baseball’s designated hitter rule. Although you can make a strong case for that.) It was the widespread acceptance and use of air conditioning. He argued that before air conditioning most of the federal government shut down in the summer and went home — too hot and humid in D.C. And there is probably some truth to that. Take a look at the rooms next time you visit Capitol Hill — high ceilings, expansive windows and so on.

I was thinking about that yesterday on the flight back to Cleveland after learning that Government Motors is planning to essentially shut down for nine weeks this summer. Hey, that seems to work OK in Europe.

Several years ago my wife and I went on a bike tour, riding for four days from Amsterdam to Bruges in northwestern Belgium. Great vacation. But striking in contrast to the USA. It was July and with the exception of places to eat and drink (ah, the beer, don’t get me started), very few businesses were open, day or night. Most people were on holiday. Woot.

So maybe that’s where we are heading: summer holidays that stretch from the end of June to September. We’ll see how that works this summer for thousands of GM employees and their families — and perhaps more importantly, for the millions of employees at Mom and Pop businesses who are tethered to the Detroit auto makers. Unfortunately for Mom and Pop, no big government bailout as yet. Wonder how they manage this in France?

And maybe as GM and related businesses take a summer-long hiatus, the policy wonks and government officials could consider doing likewise.

Then we could hang a sign from the Washington Monument: USA: Gone Fishin’.


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