Friday, November 7, 2008


Okay, so he's not Superman. But it will sure be wonderful to have a guy at the helm who can speak in compound, complex sentences and who is an author, a very good author. Check out what writers think about the guy.

And a man who is also an inspirational figure, maybe even "transformational," as Colin Powell called him.

To undo what W. and his band of robber barons and government haters have done in the last eight years will take superhuman powers.

Imagine a kid in America who for the first time in that kid's life, hears the President of his country speak intelligently and articulately about a wide range of subjects. A man who doesn't mock intellectuals or the educated, but sets a higher standard for everyone. Wow, what a minty breath of spring that will be.

For only the second time in my life I feel there's a guy in the White House who can inspire Americans to be the leading force for good in the world. Not through our military power, though I have no doubt he'll be able to handle that role, but through the power of our ideas and our creativity and our industry and our Yankee ingenuity.

Here's a snippet from Reagan's First Inaugural Address that seems appropriate:

"The economic ills we suffer have come upon us over several decades. They will not go away in days, weeks, or months, but they will go away. They will go away because we as Americans have the capacity now, as we've had in the past, to do whatever needs to be done to preserve this last and greatest bastion of freedom."

Put that alongside FDR, in his second inaugural address: “We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.”

Well, some of us know that. But there are still some who think that totally unregulated markets operate most efficiently. And that government has no real purpose. And that "let them eat cake" isn't such a bad idea.

Back to Reagan's inaugural. The following is a famous passage from that speech that many conservatives hold as a declaration of their sacred position:

"In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time we've been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else."

In my view government becomes the problem when government hates the very idea of governing, as we've seen in the last eight years. (Remember Jeb Bush's inaugural in which he rhapsodized about some wonderful future day when all those state office buildings would be empty--ie. everything on the state level was fully privatized.)

Bush's White House twisted Reagan's words into an argument against effective and enlightened governing. A White House that distrusted government, that wanted to dismantle or privatize or undermine most of the good programs previous adminstrations had created. The EPA, for one. FEMA for another. If you don't believe in the mission of an agency, it gives you carte blanche to fill it with political hacks and cronies instead of professionals, and to rewrite regulations so you effectively gut the power of the agency to (for instance) keep our air clean, our water pure and our industries from unchecked environmental havoc.

As Reagan's speechwriter suggested, we can't rely on people in Washington to solve all our problems; we've got to learn to govern ourselves. (ie. "fend for yourself") Reagan was making the case for doing away with what he considered the "welfare state" and a safety net for the poor. A good old fashioned American idea of "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps." Clinton moved that agenda ahead, dropping millions from the welfare rolls, and Bush did even more. So in the last eight years six million new citizens are now in povery.

Is that because they didn't govern themselves or work hard? In some cases, I suppose so. But it's also because there was one of the greatest "redistributions of wealth" in modern history. Bush's tax cuts moved wealth away from the bottom 80 percent and created an added comfort zone for the top tier.

The train wreck in the economy that we're experiencing now, and we'll be experiencing for years, I'm afraid, is an expression of that trickle down philosophy of wealth creation. Deregulate, trust the markets, give the most to the wealthy, and let others fend for themselves. It's a train wreck that in my most cynical moments I believe was entirely planned, or at least condoned. What better way to demonstrate that government is not the answer but the problem, than to cause the government to fail.

What's different about Obama is that he might actually inspire people to put their faith in government to act responsibly again, and for a few to sacrfice so that many can survive without holding three jobs. That's not socialism, my friends. That's America.

One can dream.

"I ask you to believe - not just in my ability to bring about change, but in yours. I know this change is possible…because in this campaign, I have had the privilege to witness what is best in America. I've seen it in lines of voters that stretched around schools and churches; in the young people who cast their ballot for the first time, and those not so young folks who got involved again after a very long time. I've seen it in the workers who would rather cut back their hours than see their friends lose their jobs; in the neighbors who take a stranger in when the floodwaters rise; in the soldiers who re-enlist after losing a limb. I've seen it in the faces of the men and women I've met at countless rallies and town halls across the country, men and women who speak of their struggles but also of their hopes and dreams."

Barack Obama, President elect


Anonymous said...

50 million plus don't quite agree with you Professor...but the guy sure does sound good!
The clock is ticking and the water around Miami is rising!

James W. Hall said...

They'll come around.

Anonymous said...

Do you really think the President Elect wrote his own speeches and books.

I know you have heard him speak off the cuff - sounds like Bush to me.

James W. Hall said...

You misunderestimate him.