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Day January 20, 2009

Guest Post: What I’d Say to President-elect Obama If I Had the Chance

A friend (who we'll call EC) and I were talking about what I thought Obama should tell us later today, and she offered another perspective.  With permission, I'm reprinting her words to ensure that her perspective has an audience, too, however small (since I couldn't quite swing CNN airtime today…).

Here's what EC had to say:

—–

Sometime after my friend Mark and I talked today, I started
coming down with something.  I now have a high fever and I feel like I'm
going to collapse.  But still I toil on at my desk.

I toil on because I'm afraid to lose my job.  I toil on because I'm afraid
to lose my insurance.  I toil on, because I'm afraid for my daughter and
myself – that we will be without food, without access to health care,
without somewhere to live without this job.

I toil on, despite the fact this nation is a nation of taking chances,
despite the fact that I have a brain full of great business ideas that
should be launched.

I toil on, despite the fact that this nation was founded on bootstrapping
and the entrepreneurial spirit and starting things and shaking things up.

I toil on, because somewhere at home, my baby is playing or sleeping or
crying or pooping, or doing any number of the adorable things that she
does, secure in the knowledge that her bottle will always be full; secure
in the knowledge that we'll always be able to go to the doctor if we have
to.  Because I have good insurance at my job – even if the bacon isn't fat
here, it's still a slice, it's our slice, the slice that we need.

That's what I'd say to Obama.  Then I'd add:  universal health care would
help me to be able to take the entrepreneurial risks that made this
country what it is.  Without little people like me bootstrapping ourselves
into something bigger, we are nothing.

That's what I'd say.

If I had a chance.

An Open Letter to the President-elect On the Eve of Inauguration

President-elect Obama: 

I'm an ordinary citizen, perhaps a bit more politically involved than average, and a supporter of yours since the moment you gave that fateful speech in 2004.  You brought the possibility of idealism back to politics after its long slumber during my adulthood.  After a long and grueling primary campaign, during which skeptics daily doubted your ability to secure the nomination, and supporters like me mostly held their breath, you showed yourself to be a serious candidate for this job. 

And on the campaign trail, you confounded the pundits who said you couldn't talk about substance, and could only talk in platitudes and airy phrases.  But your mixture of idealism and pragmatism won the day, as did your competence in fundraising and running a campaign.

And now, you have the job. 

Early indications are that you fully understand the gravity of the situation.  Your speech at George Mason on the economy resonated with seriousness of purpose, and more than a few direct echoes of Frankin Delano Roosevelt's First Inaugural Address, given during the depths of the fiscal crisis as the Depression deepened. 

As an American and long-time supporter of your fitness for this job, I ask only a few things of you.

1.  Clearly and honestly explain the situation to your country.  Demand more of us, as we demand the world of you. 

2.  Be honest about your mistakes.  Don't fear the polls, and keep your eyes on how Americans traditionally behaved:  we admire people more when they can admit their mistakes and then go fix them, than we do any amount of skill in hiding the truth.

3.  Don't lose your principles.  You've got the toughest job on the planet as of noon tomorrow, and the temptation to use your power in ways you yourself deplore and have decried on the floor of the Senate and campaign trail will be overwhelming.  Don't give in.  I can't think of anybody I'd entrust more with this responsibility than perhaps Lincoln or FDR, and they're not available anymore. 

4.  Maintain your idealism, and keep creating it in all of us.  What will get us through the next four years successfully is to not let the idealism fade, especially in the face of all that will happen to us in the next year or two, economically.  We need to believe, and the economy needs us to believe, and we need each other to believe.  And we need you to keep helping us believe.

Do these things, Mr. President-elect, and you'll keep the hearts and minds of Americans.  And as we now know to our pain and chagrin, that bond of trust is critical, and has been missing for far too long between the People and their chosen representatives. 

For too long we've had government of the people, without as much government by the people as we should have, and nowhere near enough government for the people. 

Please, Mr. President-elect, restore the balance.  Thank you.

What President-elect Obama Should Say In His First Inaugural

I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about what President-Elect Obama should say in his First Inaugural Address tomorrow. As with many Americans are in these difficult days, Franklin Delano Roosevelt has been occupying my thoughts as I think ahead to what the change in leadership will bring. As the depths of the economic crisis and the true scale of the “bailouts” and economic stimulus needed have become clear (but by no means completely known), the only American presidents who faced a “modern” economy in such deep crisis were Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

And regardless of what you believe finally ended the Great Depression—whether you believe it was FDR’s New Deal and the buildup to WWII, or the natural regrowth of the economy creating demand which finally exceeded supply, or a bit of both—it is clear that Hoover’s response to economic crisis was tepid and grudging, and FDR promised firm, activist leadership in the face of crisis.

And that activism and energy played a major role in creating momentum and preventing loss of confidence among the banks and investors that require an intricate web of confidence. Confidence in each other’s ability to make good on loans or contracts. Confidence in the ability of business debtors that they will be able to maintain and grow their customer base. Confidence in the ability of those customers to keep their jobs and pay their bills and mortgages.

To the extent that confidence-building worked in the early 1930’s, it was largely FDR himself who managed to bolster the confidence and optimism of the people, while a new cabinet and executive branch filled with America’s best and brightest tried experiment after experiment, argument after argument, to give business and financial leaders the confidence that their investments in growth would be matched by each other’s consumption and slowly increasing spending by consumers.

The situation we face, as everyone seems to grasp somewhere deep within ourselves, is very similar, and requires the same careful husbandry of confidence and optimism in order to kickstart our economy. In preparing some fundraising remarks earlier this fall, I read the early speeches and fireside addresses by FDR. His First Inaugural speech is amazing, and every American who watched President-Elect Obama’s speech at George Mason last week on the economy was watching a modernization and an invocation of that fateful speech.

And my reading of FDR’s great speeches, which did so much to motivate and lead us out of panic and despair in the early days of 1933, led me to wonder what Obama should say to us in his First Inaugural next
week.

The following is my list of things Obama should tell the American people later today.

1. President-elect Obama should explain to us the intricate web of confidence that ties together our economy, and explain in terms that non-economists can understand how it works so that the people will be able to lend their informed support to the plans now being made in Washington. We do not understand the various bailouts and stimulus packages and how they actually lead to the desired result. Please clarify it, because it sounds like we only get one shot at this and we need to get it right.

2. Obama should make it clear that we are not abandoning the principles of commerce and trade, nor are we becoming “socialists” simply because we believe that some problems are bigger than private resources can solve. We’re all believers in free enterprise now, but sometimes the free enterprise system needs collective action and a concerted effort from everyone.

3. And he should make it clear that this ”help from everyone” to kickstart our economy really means that every American plays a crucial role. President-elect Obama should make a patriotic call to stimulate local and regional economic activity, and not just wait for the big multi-national corporations to recover. This will create jobs and get money and local loans flowing again, even if global trade and large, global companies take longer to stabilize.

4. The president-elect should make it clear that investment in America is the patriotic thing to do, and that rebuilding our economy not only helps us, and our children, but the world. Our humanitarian and democratic outreach to the world, our environmental concerns, and our ability to address problems elsewhere in addition to those at home, depends crucially on a healthy economy. America’s place in the world, and our ability to be a force for change and for good, depends on getting back to sound financial and business shape.

5. And he should outline the nature of his plan and promise a series of regular discussions with the American people, in the spirit of FDR’s fireside chats but with the full force of modern media and communications, to ensure that all of us understand the situation, how each measure is designed to work and how we intend to use our scarce resources wisely and avoid waste. And that we understand how we’re progressing, and where we still need work. Treat the people like partners in this enterprise, not “interest groups,” or “demographics” to be polled. Mobilize us for action, as FDR did, and we’ll respond in kind.

6. And finally, President-elect Obama should call upon us all to temporarily put aside the issues that divide us in other ways; social issues, differences in economic approach, and issues of ideology. Not because these aren’t central to our political life and deserve democratic debate and discussion, but because right now, as in the 1930’s and 1940’s, we have serious issues that we need to come together and solve, with one voice, as one people.

And that is what I think President-elect Obama should say to the American people