Heed the Call
by Charles Lemos, Wed Feb 04, 2009 at 08:21:21 PM EST
Throughout the world, change is the order of the day. In every Nation economic problems, long in the making, have brought crises of many kinds for which the masters of old practice and theory were unprepared. In most Nations social justice, no longer a distant ideal, has become a definite goal, and ancient Governments are beginning to heed the call.
Thus, the American people do not stand alone in the world in their desire for change. We seek it through tested liberal traditions, through processes which retain all of the deep essentials of that republican form of representative government first given to a troubled world by the United States.
The attempt to make a distinction between recovery and reform is a narrowly conceived effort to substitute the appearance of reality for reality itself. When a man is convalescing from illness, wisdom dictates not only cure of the symptoms, but also removal of their cause.
We find our population suffering from old inequalities, little changed by vast sporadic remedies. In spite of our efforts and in spite of our talk, we have not weeded out the over privileged and we have not effectively lifted up the underprivileged. Both of these manifestations of injustice have retarded happiness. No wise man has any intention of destroying what is known as the profit motive; because by the profit motive we mean the right by work to earn a decent livelihood for ourselves and for our families.
We have, however, a clear mandate from the people, that Americans must forswear that conception of the acquisition of wealth which, through excessive profits, creates undue private power over private affairs and, to our misfortune, over public affairs as well. In building toward this end we do not destroy ambition, nor do we seek to divide our wealth into equal shares on stated occasions. We continue to recognize the greater ability of some to earn more than others. But we do assert that the ambition of the individual to obtain for him and his a proper security, a reasonable leisure, and a decent living throughout life, is an ambition to be preferred to the appetite for great wealth and great power.
These words were spoken on January 4, 1935. They form part of FDR's State of the Union Address. President Obama would do well to study this speech in its entirety. More than any of FDR's inaugural speeches, this state of the union address would come to define his Presidency. In the months that followed this address would come the great programs and reforms of the New Deal that led to the creation of the embedded liberal state, a state that despite the near continuous assault by foe and friend remains at the heart of our great Republic.
Once again the nation stands at a critical juncture with the chance to make a decisive break with the failed policies of the past. Not even a month into his Presidency, the President faces an early test whose outcome may well determine the success of his Presidency. Since being elected, Mr. Obama has reached out to the vanquished and listened to their concerns. He has met with his defeated rival, with conservative pundits and journalists, with the House and Senate and to date had more meetings with Republican legislators than with Democratic ones. He has even named three Republicans to his Cabinet. But what has this earned him?
Senator McCain noted today that the economy needed a "real stimulus not more spending." Senator McCain is offering his own alternative, a $445 billion plan composed more of tax cuts than new spending. It is as if he has yet to see the Electoral College results. William Kristol, though no longer opining in the nation's paper of record, still is managing to let the word be known that GOP should oppose the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act running on an argument that this is the time to become fiscal conservatives. Praise be the soul of Milton Friedman now that William Kristol has found his religion after forswearing it on the cross that is Iraq. George Will, the host of the aforementioned conservative repast, continues to write that "FDR's policies of regulatory reform and sharply increased government spending were an abject failure." Mr. Will is little more than the defender of class privilege, then and now. In the House of Representatives, no one Republican voted for the fiscal stimulus. And in the Senate, today Democratic leaders now admit that they do not have the votes to pass the bill as currently written. According to the Washington Post, moderate Republicans are trying to trim the bill by as much as $200 billion.
It is also disconcerting that Senator Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, has joined with Senator Collins, Republican of Maine, in an effort to cull the spending. Among the items that the Collins-Nelson initiative is targeting: $1.1 billion for comparative medical research, $350 million for Agriculture Department computers, $75 million to discourage smoking, $20 million in Interior Department funding, $400 million for HIV screening and $650 million for wildlife management. It is clear that the writing is on the wall and the President will need to make some concessions to bring Senator Nelson, Collins and Snowe on board.
The necessity of compromise now is self-evident but the President might take away from this experience that no matter how much he wines and dines with the GOP or attentively listens to their tax cutting rhetoric ad nauseam, he is not going to get to chance their minds. The Republicans will insist on the sacrosanct nature of their private and corporate property rights and given a choice between honest reform and any usurpation of their privilege, they will seek to crash the system before they surrender. The President should heed the call of the progressive left and act boldly and swiftly to take country back to the goals and aspirations of the New Deal and the Great Society and forget about appeasing those who cannot be appeased.