There's good news and bad news in the Barack Obama's second inaugural address. The good news is that it was an unvarnished progressive speech without any punches pulled. The Los Angeles Times headline on the inauguration was "For his second term a sweeping liberal vision." The bad news is that for the most part, the speech focused on the present instead of the future.
Don't get me wrong, I'm as liberal as the next guy or gal, maybe more so. I liked the speech, but I wished the president had done more to focus Americans on the challenges facing America's future. Barack Obama won his presidency by talking about change in 2008. And in 2009, he acted to advance our economic future in his stimulus program which made investments in technology which will pay dividends through the 21st century. Now more than ever, America requires fundamental change.
The battle between President Obama and congressional Republicans reminds me of the trench warfare during World War I. Thousands of soldiers would die in a few hours and neither side would gain much ground. After the war, Great Britain and France were devastated economically and psychologically. The two nations did everything in their power, including appeasement to avoid another war. We all know appeasement is the rocky road that led to the rise of Adolf Hitler.
The United States is still a first rate military power. In fact, it may be the only first rate military power. But economically America has slipped. In his book The Measure of a Nation, Howard Stephen Friedman compares the United States with other countries in a number of areas, including health and education. Friedman's assessment does not treat our position in the world kindly.
The United States should be looking down the road instead of kicking the can down the road. The federal government must make the push forward to modernize America. Strong federal action was the key to the post World War II economic boom. Hundreds of Americans were able to attend college and get good paying jobs because of federal financial assistance under the GI Bill of Rights. Under Republican President Dwight Eisenhower the feds spent billions of dollars to build the interstate highway system which created thousands of new businesses and hundreds of thousands jobs in undeveloped areas.
It's not great politics for a president to tell America's that we are lagging economically and is not prepared to face the challenges of the global economy of the 21st century. The most vocal opponent of appeasement was Winston Churchill. Churchill's assertions that Great Britain had become a second rate military power forced the future prime minister into political exile.
A forward looking economic agenda that would fundamentally change America has as much a chance of passing Congress as I do of winning an Oscar next month. But there are some political benefits to addressing the problems we face in the new global economy. If President Obama spoke more about the change and the future, he would also be highlighting the GOP's retro view of life. Along with Latinos, other minorities, and women, the millennial generation is the key to the new Democratic majority. People under 30 are also the best hope for change and our future but Monday the president spoke of traditional American values to reassure older voters. The world has changed and Democrats should recognize this reality even though GOP won't. Republicans that quote the Rolling Stones are living in the past darkly.
Forcing people to deal with reality is always difficult. It's a dirty job but someone has to do it. The only person who can do it is Barack Obama.
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