Jun 082010

At the start of the next century, Dick Cheney dismissed conservation as “a sign of personal virtue,” and in the days after 9/11, George Bush told America to go shopping. In the decade since then, New York Times columnist and best-selling author Tom Friedman has pounded on the failure of that administration to use 9/11 to summon Americans to sacrifice and greatness.

Marty Kaplan, Huffington Post

With his family by his side, Barack Obama is s...
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I couldn’t agree more with this article, though I think the chances of Obama summoning the nerve to be a great president are growing more slim by the day. Marty Kaplan speaks of Bush’s failure to leverage the events of 9/11 to rally Americans to end dependency on foreign oil. But such an act would have been contrary to Bush’s vision for America.

Obama, on the other hand, has already had numerous opportunities to embrace his purported vision. Instead of playing politics, he could have held his ground in support of the public option; he could have refused to compromise on his response to the corruption that brought down American banking, and he could have immediately taken control of the BP disaster. But in each case thus far, President Obama has compromised the vision and given in to special interests and business as usual.

I voted for Obama, and I still believe that he has the potential to be the greatest president of my lifetime, but if that’s going to happen, he will have to leave his “good politician” senses behind and take a stand. I agree with Marty Kaplan that the American people will follow a great leader, and that Obama has the bully pulpit from which he alone can reach the masses. Americans are ready for a change, but we want a real change — we want honesty, not more politics.

Obama still has the opportunity to unite Americans and restore our sense of pride in our country. But in order to do so, he needs to break with the left and right. He needs to stand above the fray and take a stand directly with the American people. He needs to take a lesson from FDR, who rallied our nation with bold honesty. FDR wasn’t afraid to attack the wealthy business interests who controlled the country, and he didn’t pull punches. He made himself perfectly clear in his election eve speech of 1936:

“We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace–business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.”

This is the type of bold leadership that gave birth to the attitude of national pride that pervaded our nation for nearly 40 years. It was the leadership that created a system where the vast majority of Americans were able to share in the prosperity of our nation. It was the leadership that won the war against fascism, built our American industrial might and created the American middle class.

The New Deal wasn’t merely a program designed to restore the American economy from the ravages of the Great Depression. It was a blueprint for a healthy and prosperous America where all citizens believed, not only in their ability to share in the wealth but also in their responsibility to help produce it. JFK best captured the sentiment of the time in his inaugural address of 1961:

And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

Thus was the spirit of a nation with a strong and increasingly prosperous middle class. It was that sense of unity that won WW2, and it was the notion that we were all in it together that empowered us to excel at every challenge. It wasn’t free market capitalism that drove the United States to the pinnacle of nationhood but rather the understanding that We the People are the source of American greatness.

But the sad truth is that the sense of American unity has been replaced with an ethic of every person for themselves. The oil crisis of the 1970s and the stagflation that followed gave rise to Reaganomics and the festering idea that government is the enemy. The progressive tax system that had paid for the debt of WW2, helped to fuel the greatest expansion of the American economy and funded the programs that supported the middle class was then decimated. Since that point in time, the conservative movement has systematically done everything possible to further its goal of serving the wealthy and destroying the American middle class.

Tax cuts for the rich, massive concentration of wealth, deregulation, trillion dollar bailouts, environmental disaster, outsourcing, off-shoring, and 30 million unemployed — is it any wonder why the average American no longer feels a part of a larger united whole? Movement conservatism is destroying our country, and if President Obama is to take a place amongst the greatest of our leaders, he must stand firmly against their assault. He must embrace the fact that he is president of ALL the people, and he must stop playing politics and start telling it like it is.

Part of the story he needs to tell is that today’s economic situation, dire as it is, still pales when compared with the situation after WW2. The federal debt was then a staggering 122 percent of the GDP. It is now about 94 percent. We recovered from the debt of WW2 by raising the top marginal tax bracket to 91 percent, and guess what — we had the longest sustained period of economic growth in our nation’s history, while also creating a middle class at the same time. It’s time again for those who have reaped the most benefit to stop lining their pockets and ante up. We will need to raise taxes on the most wealthy or kiss the American middle class goodbye — it’s that simple.

Would a call to raise taxes really be political suicide? I don’t think so. Ross Perot stood before the American people, shared the hard facts, advocated a gas tax to pay off the deficit, rallied millions of Americans and could possibly still have been president. The secret to his success — he shared the facts, good and bad.

What America needs now is a leader with a vision and the personal resolve to make it happen. Energy policy is the perfect place to start. The BP disaster has set the stage. All we need now is for President Obama to serve our nation, even at the expense of his deep pocketed campaign benefactors. We need to stop tinkering around the edges and face our energy issues. We can’t produce enough oil; coal is freaking dirty, and clean coal is too expensive. We need a vision and a plan for energy independence. Obama needs to share that vision and drive us toward the goal. He needs to become a true statesman, and just like JFK led us to the moon, he will set us on the path to true energy independence and a bright and prosperous future for all Americans.

Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

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