Newspaper editors can't predict the future any better than astrologers. We shouldn't try.
Plus, although the editorialist's powers of moral and political suasion may be regarded as considerable by some cherished readers, most of these believers have forgotten the frequency with which they have carefully studied the writer's calls to action and, with a cheery sort of heedlessness, done other than was proposed. Or taken no action at all. And maybe we were all better off as a result.
But editorialists have constitutionally unlimited resilience. Helplessly, they will form and deliver opinions long after the merry, thoughtless forces of evolution have deleted the newspaper reading gene from humankind.
So that even today, as 2008 begins, you are welcome to these few choice and oft-repeated views on topics of general and vital concern:
First, health care. There's been lots of progress on health care. The astounding generosity of summer residents, together with the leadership of the Martha's Vineyard Hospital have laid the plans and taken the steps that will put the Vineyard's health-care apparatus in better shape than we have ever known. We Vineyarders are used to receiving thanks for our neighborliness and generosity, but the magnificent philanthropy of those, many of them part-timers, who contributed $42 million for a new hospital, now under construction, has turned the tables.
Add to all this the Commonwealth's untested but promising health insurance program, and the prospect is considerably brightened, compared with the desperate days of the mid-1990s. Still, there remains something missing, and its absence clouds the otherwise heartening prospect. Public leadership and a community plan for the health services it needs, wants, and can afford has long been required but elusive. We mean a plan that is financially sound and one that is conceived in honest bargaining among providers, insurers, and the community, taking each and all into account, and coordinating the considerable but disparate resources from which we benefit - but which, with pruning, rearrangement, and coordination could do us all so much more good. We have in mind health-care access, elder care, home care, visiting nurse services, substance abuse counseling, and so much more, now dispersed across the Island and often struggling to survive.
The decades old questions remains - how will the services we need be economically integrated and supportable over the long term, and who will take the lead?
Next, the Steamship Authority. The Vineyard's transportation link to the mainland enters 2008 better led, but hobbled. The advances that the boatline celebrates so proudly - new or renewed vessels, working web presence, more efficient ticketing, better customer service - are certainly welcome, but all these efforts are severely hobbled by high costs, especially for labor, declining traffic volumes, private competitors who sip (and sometimes gulp) revenues that might otherwise help fund Steamship Authority service, plus changing travel patterns in the market and increasing demands by Islanders who have become wealthier and more itinerant: the list is long and unforgiving. Tough, sound choices will be needed. The current lineup of members and management could be the one to make them. But, so far, they have shrunk from the difficult task that cries out to be accomplished, namely the remanufacture of this battered lifeline.
Housing. Prices remain high, and though sales volume has moderated, no one foresees a meaningful or long-lasting slump. Ordinary incomes will not support home ownership any more, and rental opportunities are limited and expensive. Huge and varied efforts represent a heartening, community-wide commitment to address this problem before it wounds our community. But so far, the effort, almost entirely subsidized and hedged with limiting rules, has fallen short of our long-term needs. It cannot be that all ordinary-income Islanders from here on live in subsidized housing with limited opportunities for accumulating wealth. A variety of initiatives must be employed, beyond publicly subsidized and hedged efforts, to meet this challenge. Zoning and density limits stand in the way. An effort to modify zoning rules to encourage the private development of affordable housing opportunities is as important as the subsidized housing efforts that are now underway.
The economy. And, most important of all, will the economy be encouraged to expand to offer good jobs and growing wages to neighbors we need and want? Here too, the issues are often zoning rules and expensive limits on growth - for example, the many ways that unaffordable housing makes it difficult to attract needed workers, in turn making it difficult for businesses to expand and pay workers higher wages.
Oh, and government. We waste so much time and so many resources. The school system needs streamlining, the county government needs a decent burial, the Martha's Vineyard Commission needs to consider the Vineyard's future in narrower, more realistic terms, paying particular attention to the economy as an engine of housing, jobs, wages, conservation, education, and general community good health. The schools and the towns and all of us need working, computerized information system. And we need results-oriented leadership to get this work done.
If it's a familiar list, well, no wonder. We've never got everything done that we meant to get to. Maybe we should simply acknowledge that 2007 was a year of good and bad. We must admit that we are scarred and uncertain, but we know that there is a very great likelihood 2008 will be better.