Janus, the Roman god for whom January is named, is a twin-faced deity, the god of gates and doorways. A god of transition. This New Year's Day, many must feel the two views look about the same for Janus: One face looks upon the economic havoc of 2008; the other sees more of the same for 2009. But there is reason to hope. The moment of sobriety, for all its inherent pain, offers great promise. In it, leaders have the opportunity to help focus us on common goals, eliciting self-sacrifice and ingenuity, for a brighter future.
President-elect Barack Obama, so far, is setting the right tone for that transition. He has rejected partisan rancor to emphasize common ground. Just the simple act of asking Pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration later this month matched action to rhetoric. But his real challenge will be leading Americans to a renewal of self-sacrifice after a period of unprecedented wealth and consumption. The opportunity is there. Most Americans likely have contemplated in the past year what they would do if they lost their job, their house, their financial independence. Many have realized their luck could run out and they would need help if it did.
Obama's challenge will be capitalizing on that reality check to craft the next New Deal for America, reminding us that this country's success has been built upon common ground and goals.
It won't be easy, as evidenced by the special legislative session set to start Monday in Tallahassee to fill a $2.3-billion state budget deficit. So far, Republican Gov. Charlie Crist and the Republican-led Legislature — still mired in the mind-set that all tax reform is bad — have rejected calls to close loopholes in the sales tax code to offset the deficit, opting instead to raid fast-dwindling state reserves. But such a plan only sets the stage for more painful decisions in the spring, when a 2009-10 state budget faces a $5.8-billion deficit and possibly as little as $1-billion in reserves. The potential implications are dreadful to imagine: Chronically ill Floridians kicked out of Medicaid; schoolteacher pay cuts; state parks shuttered.
Florida's economic future has changed in the past year and Republicans, who have controlled the Legislature for the past 12 years, must look beyond their old standbys of shrinking government and cutting taxes. Crist has suggested he is open to bolder ideas during the regular legislative session that begins in March. He will need to exercise his significant political clout to bring the Legislature to the same conclusion. Floridians should demand it.
Much has changed for the United States and Florida since Janus last cast his dual gaze. Gone are illusions that derivatives are sure-fire ways to a fortune and that home values won't plunge. Most Americans feel more financially fragile. But this recession, the worst since the Great Depression, is an opportunity for a brighter future fueled by bold ideas, fresh leadership and shared sacrifice. The start of 2009 looks like 2008, but it doesn't need to end that way.