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  • Dan FitzPatrick

I've Got a Guy ...


The world needs fewer politicians and more good, competent, honest auto mechanics.


We own a ten-year-old, imported car/truck SUV that I have come to love. With over 120,000 miles on the odometer, it has served us well, most recently ferrying our son to and from college in Indiana. It is big, safe and surefooted. It doesn’t hurt that it rides well and has more than a few creature comforts. With luck, it’s only halfway through its useful life.


This steadfast vehicle now accompanies our son, an environmental engineer, to his office and multiple job sites. Just the other day, it became mired in deep mud at a construction site and sacrificed its transmission in the attempt to free itself. Incapable of traveling in reverse, our son nursed it gently back to the dealership from which we had purchased it, and at which we’d had it serviced for many years.


Then came the bad news – replacing the transmission would cost almost 70% of the car’s current market value! I got a pit in my stomach; it was as if my mechanical friend needed a heart transplant, and I was its healthcare proxy.


So of course, I sought a second opinion.


I reached out to a mechanic who has serviced our domestic cars for many years. He does very good work, his prices are fair and reasonable, and he is honest, even to the point of recommending against doing work he believes to be unnecessary. I trust him.


My guy tells me that transmission work requires a specialist, but that he’s got a guy he trusts who has been fixing transmissions for decades. That guy quoted me a price that is less than half what my dealer wanted. Needless to say, I took our beloved truck to my “new friend.” I’ll keep everyone posted on the result.


You’re probably thinking: something’s wrong with this picture; how can the costs be so far apart? Was the dealership trying to cheat me? No, the answer lies in the difference between the approaches taken to solve the problem.


The dealership planned to swap out the entire transmission with a reconditioned OEM (original equipment manufacturer) unit. A commercially reasonable, easy and fast option, but expensive. My new friend is in the business of fixing transmissions; he will take ours apart and repair/replace components as necessary. This approach takes skill and specialized knowledge. It’s like problem solving a puzzle. It will take more time, but it will also be considerably less expensive.


So how does this relate to politics and politicians?


Politicians seem always to be looking for the easiest, most expedient solutions to problems. Not surprisingly, those solutions tend to be very expensive – to us, the taxpayers.


Case in point: the recent announcement that the Republican and Democrat leaders in the Senate reached a budget deal to fund the government for two years. Hooray! Success! Finally, bipartisanship emerges through the acrid clouds of shutdown-shaming! Lots of backslapping, high-fiving and smiling into the cameras. "See – Washington works!" Huzzah!


Wait a minute. Hold the balloons and confetti. What really is so impressive about doing something that is a basic requirement of your job – agreeing on the national budget? Also, aren’t you all just a little bit ashamed about the fact that you took the country through multiple stopgap funding CRs (continuing resolutions) that injected needless uncertainty into the functioning of our government and the operations of our military? If that is the new bar for proving legislative success, then you all are pathetic.


And note: this miracle of bipartisanship is the result of agreement on massive additional spending without meaningful effort to address fundamental issues of structural costs. Politicians of both parties came to feed at the fiscal trough. They found the easier, faster and more expensive solution.


I wish my new friend was in control in Washington. I think he would approach our challenges like he would a broken transmission – he would take them apart, see what is working and what is broken, truly understanding where the friction points and fluid blockages lie, then fixing only what needs to be fixed, reassembling everything into a fully functional apparatus that can do its job for years and miles to come. All while keeping a keen eye on its cost.


What this country needs is some really good Mr. and Ms. Fix-Its!

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