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Thoughts While Diving

Three days after the U.S. elections, my wife, Jan, and I left the country for a week of scuba diving on Bonaire, an island in the Netherlands Antilles off the coast of Venezuela.

Bonaire is about as far off the beaten track as one can get, especially for a news junkie like me. There are no newspapers other than advertising circulars. There’s television, but Jan and I tend not to watch broadcast news.

And scuba diving just lends itself to tuning out the outside world. It’s a relatively physically demanding activity—it’s amazing how much weight it takes to sink a human body in a 3-mm-thick wetsuit—so you go to sleep early and sleep well. There is also a fair amount of time during the day to sit back and reflect.

Diving also places you in an entirely different world, very much in touch with nature. Being underwater, swimming along a coral reef, is like taking a walk in a staggeringly beautiful park that you never knew existed until you started diving. I know, we’ve all seen videos of people diving along reefs and interacting with various sea creatures. Believe me, it really is not the same as being in the water with the reef and the fish and the turtles and rays and moray eels and octopuses.

Even on remote and pristine Bonaire—the underwater reef system is a national preserve—it is clear that human activity and human avarice are damaging our planet, both globally and locally. The water temperature in the Caribbean around Bonaire was 84 °F, about 2 °F warmer than it should be in early November. It doesn’t sound like much, but our guides said the warmer water temperatures over the past few years were putting significant stress on the coral. I’ve been diving only for two years, so the reef looks pristine to me, but old hands say the damage is obvious.

On one boat dive, someone who has been diving at Bonaire for many years asked to dive a site called “Black Forest.” Our divemaster said that the site is now simply called “Forest.” It turns out that the original name came from the unusually dense stands of black coral in the deep and wide crevices of the reef at that site. Mature black coral looks something like an 8-foot-tall, deep green, almost black, pine tree. Until recently, these stands of black coral grew to near the top of the reef. But the skeleton of black coral is prized for making jewelry, and the stands have been decimated by poachers down to about 70 feet, the practical limit of free-diving.

Perhaps I’m naïve, but I just don’t understand destroying a piece of nature that beautiful for any reason.

The results of the U.S. election were a topic of conversation among my fellow divers and something I pondered a bit during downtime between dives.

Even before the election was held, it was clear to me that, whether Barack Obama or John McCain won the presidency, the election of 2008 marked the end of Reaganism.

Reaganism was the dominant political philosophy in the U.S. for the 28 years since Ronald Reagan was elected President in 1980. It can be summed up as follows: Government is never the solution, it is always the problem; markets are always better at solving problems than government is. Reaganism reached its apotheosis during the Administration of President George W. Bush. It reached its end with the government’s massive and continuing response to the financial crisis that is still tearing apart the world’s economic system.

Obama’s victory was a definitive exclamation point marking the end of Reaganism. A majority of Americans now clearly believe that government action is required to solve many pressing problems—from chaos in the financial markets to climate change to the nation’s dysfunctional health care system—that markets simply cannot address.

Thanks for reading.


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  • Nov 24th 200813:11
    by Carter

    I liked your article a lot. It’s been a while since my last expedition, but I am actually a diver as well.

    Here is some more food for thought. Obama was elected as a proponent for more government, but it may not be the end of Reaganism. Currently, there is not a conservative party that wants to reduce the government. We can see this by what the Republican party has been doing in the last 8 years and especially the last 6 months — they are a proponent of expanding the government as well, even if they say they aren’t. There was no major Reagan-esque candidate to vote for in this election.

    So, although Obama is preaching a platform of change (which i am very excited for), perhaps the biggest change would be a return to reaganism in which inefficient bureaucracies are reduced or removed and the government would quit wasting life and money in foreign affairs without the entire support of the rest of the UN (After all, it is always easier to accomplish more in peace than in war). Perhaps then, with less deficit, less inflation, and a stronger economy, we might not have found ourselves in this economic noose to begin with. Perhaps it is big government that got us here in the first place, and we haven’t realized that yet.

    Stay hungry for politics. These next few years are going to require a lot of attention from The People.

  • Nov 24th 200818:11
    by Klug

    It can be summed up as follows: Government is never the solution, it is always the problem; markets are always better at solving problems than government is. Reaganism reached its apotheosis during the Administration of President George W. Bush.

    “We have a responsibility that when somebody hurts, government has got to move.” – George W. Bush, 2003.

  • Nov 25th 200814:11
    by Rudy Baum

    Notice that I did not say anything in my editor’s page about big government or small government. Reaganism, to me, defined all government programs–except those devoted to national defense–as inefficient and maintained that the market could always outperform the government.

    I couldn’t agree more that government overreaching in foreign affairs is a big part of the problem we’re currently facing. Whether or not we are succeeding in Iraq (whatever that means), we cannot afford the effort. I suspect President Obama will oversee an expansion of many government programs, but that was not the point of my editorial. My point was that there are some activities–like regulating the financial system and dealing with climate change, not to mention cleaning up after hurricanes and other natural disasters–that require government invovlement. The essence of Reaganism was denial of that point. That is the political philosophy that I think has now come to an end.

  • Nov 27th 200812:11
    by Carter

    Well said

  • Nov 28th 200803:11
    by mitch

    The Change message in todays usage means anything opposite of Bush. However, Obama has been giving his Change lectures since the 90′s, and they are fundamentally anti-Reganism. All the better in my mind.

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