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Published: Friday, 12/29/2006

Time now to indulge ourselves in wishful thinking

THE lull between Christmas and New Year's, when reality is suspended for many, is a good time for wishful thinking. Frankly, after the frenzied seasonal treadmill, few have energy for much more than that. For just the briefest of moments at year's end, most folks I know desperately want to put a hold on arguments about politics, religion, and family. With the latter, sustained cordiality over the holidays often depends on summary pleasantries replacing spirited debate about anything.

Yet as the new year awaits its shot with history, expectations about what will be are bound to creep into the subconscious to some degree. Many people choose to limit those expectations to self interests. They set personal goals for what's important to them, from building deeper relationships to finding better jobs or the old self-help standbys of losing weight or quitting cigarettes for good.

In the new year, parents surely have expectations for their children, as do schools for their staff and students. Employers and employees may expect to get along famously in 2007 but, except for a handful, that's probably just wishful thinking. Still, it doesn't hurt to wish for civil discourse, mutual respect, and honest hard work to advance collective goals in the 12 months ahead.

It's a wonderful recipe for progress that could be replicated worldwide if the will to act like evolved, reasonable human beings could only triumph more frequently over the temptation to act like insecure adolescents declaring war with all who get in their way. But as long as insecure adults continue to pick fights and start wars with each other over perceived slights and endless power plays, wishful thinking won't change anything.

It won't change the mess in the Middle East, where renewed dialogue and reconciliation efforts between hardened foes are routinely rejected in favor of brutal attack, torture, and death. Whether it's the Israelis or Palestinians plotting to violate tenuous cease-fires with a barrage of artillery or ethnic factions in Iraq scheming to destroy a "unity government" with territorial assaults more vicious than the last, carnage is preferred to compromise. The dialogue between zealots is conducted through killing.

Wishful thinkers in the United States wish their armed forces would substantially extricate troops from the middle of the mayhem in Baghdad in 2007 or at least early 2008. Last month a majority of Americans voted for a new direction in the pre-emptive invasion/occupation that George W. Bush ordered nearly four years ago. Their expectations are that American soldiers will not continue to die for years hence in a nebulous nation-building experiment that has created a country in full blown war with itself.

The midterms were not a mandate for a surge of 20,000 or more troops into Baghdad to plug the dike of roiling violence until something else works to stabilize Iraq - or not. The elections were a demand for a new war strategy that makes sense under the deteriorating circumstances and lessens America's costly and unnecessary sacrifice in a futile conflict. Americans wait to hear what the President will say about that new strategy in January and wish for the best.

Ohioans will do the same. They followed the rest of the country with their wishful thinking at the ballot box in November. Like the rest of the country they helped sweep the party of the President to minority status in Washington and statewide offices starting with the governor. But curiously, the General Assembly, which they left in solid GOP control, still seems oblivious to the clear wishes of the electorate for action that matters to the majority.

It's almost as though the Republican-led legislature is thumbing its nose at wishful thinkers across the state who thought they sent a strong message to Columbus to get serious about issues other than God, gays, and guns. I wish they would get it already.

I wish the governor-elect would use the bully pulpit of his office to shame errant partisan lawmakers, going for broke before 2008, to consider the people they represent who can't find good-paying jobs, who can't afford to send their kids to college in Ohio, who can't abide the eternal property owner handouts to K-12 school districts struggling to just get by, and who can't see a future in a state where economic and educational opportunities are just not the long-term priorities they should be.

Today, two days before the new year, we can indulge in wishful thinking about what will be. It is our wish that those who represent us on the federal and statewide levels understand the limits of our patience for change. But ultimately it is up to us, the wishful thinkers who worry about the greater good, to not settle for good enough. Wishful thinking should motivate active oversight and aggressive calls for accountability.



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