Martin Luther King gave us a dream to hold on to. Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave us a new deal. Judging from his February 24 speech to the nation, Barack Hussein Obama intends to give us both
Striking a perfect balance between pragmatism and idealism, the President spelled out his proposals for turning the economy around. And he did it with quiet confidence, not the cliché-ridden, sky-is-falling call to arms often issued by poll-conscious politicians in times of crisis.
Surveys show that this particular yes-we-can brand of confidence is contagious. Public reaction to the speech was cautiously optimistic. The feeling throughout the country was that we could ride out this recession if we stick together. But this feeling will need reinforcement—straight from the top.
That’s because the economic mess we’re in is becoming a breeding ground for divisiveness. I’m not talking about headline-makers like the charges of “Socialism” often leveled at President Obama’s economic policies. That’s politics. My concern is stuff that starts with a petty innuendo and hardens into unyielding bitterness as angry and/or fearful people take sides.
Example: Rosa Brooks, a respected Los Angeles Times columnist recently wondered in print what would happen if the government had bailed out ordinary Americans instead of General Motors. “Maybe ordinary Americans would have put that money to good use, buying goods, starting businesses, sending kids to college,” she wrote.
I’m not knocking the idea. But her presentation, framed in “us” vs. “them” terms, is divisive. It infers that one group of Americans (read “fat cat business executives”) does not deserve bailout money because they’ll only put it to bad use. Instead, “ordinary” folks should get big bucks from the fed, because chances are they’ll spend it wisely.
Then there was last February’s brouhaha, when $50 million allotted to the National Endowment for the Arts was dropped from the economic stimulus bill; but ultimately included, thanks to last minute efforts of House and Senate supporters.
Result: According to a New York Times report, Republican representative Jack Kingston of Georgia was moved to contribute this gem to the Congressional Quarterly’s online publication:
“I just think putting people to work is more important than putting more art on the wall of some New York City gallery frequented by the elite art committee.” He also called the arts “the favorite of the left.”
That “elite” BS is part of Kingston’s one-man class/cultural war against—well you know—those rich, snobbish New York types.
No hero on horseback is going to ride into town, blow away all our prejudices and unite us. But on February 24 the man in the White House gave it a marvelously uplifting try.
ENCORE! ENCORE!, Mr. President. We need more psychological bailouts. So how about holding monthly televised press conferences? They’ll give each of us a better idea of where we stand in terms of the recession—while helping all of us stand tall against it.