Predictably, the minute President Obama finished his address to Congress last night on the need to create more jobs for Americans, the talking heads rushed to the airwaves to condemn him for, among other things, telling Congress what to do. Well, duh! Isn’t that what the president of the United States is supposed to do from time to time? Especially in times of national crisis and extreme economic stress?
Actually, the president was not overly specific in what he asked Congress to do — other than to pass the bill that he is proposing, the American Jobs Act. All political realists on both sides of the aisle, including the president, know that the final legislative package will be quite different from whatever the White House has proposed — that’s politics, and the normal course of business for legislation. What the naysayers seem to have missed is the president’s real message, stated quite bluntly: “Stop the political circus!”
We can agree or disagree with the details of the jobs package. Democrats, Republicans, Tea Partiers and Fence Sitters can all argue about the right approach, how much funding is necessary or possible, whether tax credits or tax cuts or the tooth fairy will fund the initiatives. That’s all part of the lawmaking process in our democracy, and a robust debate is necessary and essential.
What must stop is the deliberate refusal to engage the process in a mature, thoughtful way. Some politicians have taken political discourse to a level of rancor that is simply rancid, devoid of constructive ideas, appallingly disrespectful of the entire idea of a civil democratic process that produces a constructive result. There are actually people who claim they want to be the president of the country who seem to want to destroy the federal government. Go figure.
President Obama rhetorically asked what might have happened to this nation if previous presidents and Congress had not worked together to create everything from the transcontinental railroad to the G.I. Bill to Social Security and Medicare. “What kind of country would this be if this chamber had voted down Social Security or Medicare just because it violated some rigid idea about what government could or could not do?” A very good question. The best legislation for the most Americans in every era was a result of hard-fought compromises that mature leaders crafted for the good of the nation.
Toward the end of his speech, President Obama noted that the next presidential election is 14 months away — “And the people who sent us here — the people who hired us to work for them — they don’t have the luxury of waiting 14 months. Some of them are living week to week, paycheck to paycheck, even day to day. They need help, and they need it now.”
Responsible public leadership demands that members of Congress, the president and those who would be president establish a new climate for working together on behalf of the citizens of this nation.
Let Your Voice Be Heard: Constitution Day Call For Voices of Trinity!
Next week, on September 17, we will observe Constitution Day, a day set aside in federal law that requires schools, colleges and universities to have some programming on the topic of the importance of the Constitution in our lives. The week will begin with the 10th Anniversary of the tragedy of September 11, and reminders of the impact of terrorism on our basic rights and freedoms. In the current climate of political gridlock, politicians who trash the federal government, and citizens polarized over so many issues, the idea of a moment to think about the entire legal basis of this nation seems both fruitful and hopelessly idealistic. But we will try to reach for bigger ideas than the daily headlines.
During the next week, I would like to devote this blog to the “Voices of Trinity” on the fundamental freedoms protected by the Constitution and the dangers we face to those freedoms. In an email to the Trinity community last week I invited your comments in this way:
I invite all members of the campus community to submit a few paragraphs — not long treatises, but pithy, concise paragraphs — expressing your thoughts on the questions below. I will publish your thoughts on my blog throughout the week from September 11 to September 17. To participate, send me your thoughts in the “comments” box below, or through an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or for really short comments just tweet me @TrinityPrez
Here are the questions for discussion:
A recent poll indicates that two-thirds of all Americans think that it’s o.k. to sacrifice some of our basic rights and liberties in order to be safe from terrorism. You can read more about this poll on WTOPnews.com: http://www.wtop.com/?nid=755&sid=2530314
Do you agree or disagree with the idea that the government should restrain rights and liberties in order to preserve our security? Why or why not?
Are some of the rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights in danger of becoming extinct? Which ones? Why are they in danger, and what can citizens do to be sure that these fundamental rights remain strong?
What rights might you be willing to sacrifice, personally, in order to feel safer and more secure? What rights are so important to you that you would be willing to risk the potential of another terrorist attack in order to be sure you could still exercise those rights?
AND ONE MORE QUESTION: What would you say to members of Congress and to President Obama about their responsibilities to get this country moving again? What is your recommendation on the best way to stop the political circus and get on with effective legislation to rebuild economic security for the people of this country?
You can weigh in by offering a comment in the box below, or send an email to email@example.com, or tweet your pithy thoughts @TrinityPrez