Obama's Inaugural Address Must Change the Conversation

Obama must stand up the congressional Republicans, modernize infrastructure, and address the bloated military industrial complex.

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It's hard to drain the swamp when you're up to your ass in alligators—words that we have all seen posted in offices and an idea for Barack Obama's inaugural address on Monday.

The president is up to his ass in alligators. For the next weeks, the president will be fighting off Republican dinosaurs who want to push the United States of America over the debt cliff. Once the president gets through that, he has to contend with Tea Party types who want to shove seniors and students off the fiscal cliff. Crisis management is important. But once you manage the crisis, the nation is back at square one instead of the finish line.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

The tough thing about being chief executive is that he or she should be draining the swamp and fighting off the alligators at the same time. These days the president is preoccupied with the daily battles with congressional Republicans. That means he doesn't spend much time trying to convince people that fundamental change is necessary to propel the United States forward into the future. It's tough to do both jobs simultaneously, but no one ever said that serving as president is an easy job.

Only the president has a platform large enough to change the national conversation. He should use his inaugural address to focus Americans on the forest instead of the trees. America is a petrified forest. The country's infrastructure is completely outdated with transportation, education, and electronic systems that are relics from the 19th century.

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Does Barack Obama Have a Mandate?]

Things are tough right now for people in New York City and New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy. But 10 years from now the New York metropolitan area will be the most vibrant economic hotbed in the nation. Why? Because the area has the chance to start over with billions of dollars in federal disaster relief money. The money will allow state and local governments to modernize their transportation systems and protect coastal areas from the ravages of global warming. It's tragic that we wait for a disaster to act on a evolution that should have started a long time ago.

Change isn't cheap and neither is the cost of the unholy alliance between big business and the Pentagon. Every year the United States spends hundreds of billions of dollars on big weapons systems that don't work and aren't suitable for the brushfire wars we will have to fight to protect our national security. We maintain a large and expensive nuclear arsenal which is completely useless.

[See a Slideshow of The Five Most Memorable Inaugural Addresses.]

Just ask the French about the value of high tech weapons. They are fighting a brushfire war against Islamic fundamentalists in Mali. The French started with high tech fighter bombers which failed to stop the terrorist threat. Now there are foreign legionnaires with boots on the ground in the central African nation. The United States would be stronger if we spent money to develop a well trained fighting force and a well educated work force. We should spend a lot less on high tech jets and other weapons systems that aren't necessary, don't work, and never get off the ground.

The inaugural is a greeting but farewell presidential speeches are important too. Thursday was the anniversary of the day in 1961 when Dwight Eisenhower finished his presidency with an address that warned Americans about the power of and the threat from the military industrial complex. If we had listened then, we wouldn't be in so much trouble now.

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