May 16, 2009 - How's Business?

“How’s business?”

It’s probably the most common greeting between Americans, right after “How are you?” Neither question is typically meant to be answered. After all, you don’t really want to hear about every little ache and pain, we all know the polite answer is “Fine, and how are you?” The exception – when you know that your neighbor is facing serious health problems, and you really do want to know if the therapy is working. Likewise the polite answer to “How’s business” is “Great, and how about you?” This is an exceptional time, and the old, polite whitewash has been dropped. We really want to know.

I’ve noticed that ever since the 2008 election and the stock market nose dive, this question leads to self-disclosure that would have been unthinkable a year ago. RIF (Reduction in Force) has become the acronym of the year for employees and employers alike. When asking “how’s business,” I’ve heard the following recently:

  1. An experienced timber company employee in the northwest who just survived a significant RIF at his company: “I’m thankful I have a job.”

  2. A self-employed distributor of equipment to grocery stores: “Sales have dried up, we’ve cut hours and cut salaries to keep things going.”

  3. An architect in Los Angeles: “We’ve dropped from a staff of 100 to a staff of 40, and I’m doing the work of 5 people. I almost wish I’d been RIF’ed.”

  4. A self-employed specialty farmer who ships globally: “Sales were off by 40% last winter. Bad timing - we just expanded the farm so the kids could come back home and join the operation, and now we’ve had to refinance $400,000 in debt.”

These blunt admissions of trouble are as good an economic indicator as any professional survey. Business is struggling, and when business struggles, the country struggles. Calvin Coolidge is quoted as saying “The business of America is business.” Some consider his statement to be a sign of the overconfidence of the 1920’s, and certainly it was a reflection of the times, but that does not negate the truth behind it. Scholars still argue about the root causes and cures of the Great Depression and whether it was the war, or the New Deal or other factors that brought us out of it. One thing the history scholars agree on – the Great Depression wasn’t over until the business sector had recovered the vitality of the 1920’s.

We are not in a Great Depression, but we are experiencing a serious recession and looking for healing. A group of Congressional Republicans has recently launched a new initiative to look for those elusive solutions. The National Council for a New America (NCNA) is a forum for all citizens to share concerns, insights and solutions with a national focus, yet acknowledging that what works in one state or community won’t necessarily be the best solution for everyone, everywhere. You can read more about this new effort on Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodger’s political website at:

Predictably, the spitballs have already been flying on the internet from both left and right. I scanned through several screenfuls of comments on the Political Ticker at: Clearly the negative voices are the loudest, and we need to be sure that this opportunity for grassroots input is not shouted down by the so-called liberal voices of “no debate” or the rigidly conservative voices of “no compromise.” The Republican Party needs to pull together to find common ground with everyone from sincerely conservative activists to conservative-leaning independents, and find the 80% of agreement Ronald Reagan pushed us for in the 1980’s.

We have to refocus our party on our core values of limited government and fiscal responsibility, values which slipped by the wayside as the deficit grew these past few years. We lost credibility, and it will take time to earn it back. There are no shortcuts. The National Council for a New America is a good start, even if it does lack a catchy acronym.

We need positive Republicans to participate in the town hall meetings and forums, making this a meaningful exercise in figuring out “how’s business.” Go to: and nominate your community to host a forum. Keep checking for a forum near you, and participate. Fight off cynicism and bring your most positive ideas forward to build national and party unity. We must follow the wisdom expressed in the famous quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin:

“We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

(First published on Facebook at Positively Republican)