Sunday, March 1, 2009

A Vision for America

As we stand at this crossroads of history, the eyes of all people in all nations are once again upon us, watching to see what we do with this moment, waiting for us to lead.

Among the eyes of all people of all nations watching President Obama’s first address to Congress were my eyes. And they saw an inspiring, charismatic leader, leading. Of course, he is a product of the times. He not only has ‘the Mandate of Heaven’, he has the mandate of an angry American people who want action and a more enlightened and effective government.

Those qualities that have made America the greatest force of progress and prosperity in human history we still possess in ample measure. What is required now is for this country to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more… Now, if we're honest with ourselves, we'll admit that for too long we have not always met these responsibilities, as a government or as a people. I say this not to lay blame or to look backwards, but because it is only by understanding how we arrived at this moment that we'll be able to lift ourselves out of this predicament… The fact is, our economy did not fall into decline overnight. Nor did all of our problems begin when the housing market collapsed or the stock market sank.

My italics. Straight talk, honest words, sincerity! Compare Obama’s words with this from the I Ching 41st hexagram: ‘What matters here is to understand the time and not to try to cover up poverty with empty pretence’. Only when you recognize and accept the truth of a situation can you hope to correct it.

Now, I understand that when the last administration asked this Congress to provide assistance for struggling banks, Democrats and Republicans alike were infuriated by the mismanagement and the results that followed. So were the American taxpayers; so was I.
So I know how unpopular it is to be seen as helping banks right now, especially when everyone is suffering in part from their bad decisions. I promise you: I get it.
But I also know that, in a time of crisis, we cannot afford to govern out of anger or yield to the politics of the moment.

Ah yes, anger; we know about the evils of anger on this blog, but what about the politics of the moment? I am put in mind of a quote by Joseph Campbell: ‘Economics and politics are the governing powers of life today, and that’s why everything is screwy’. The governing powers of life should be universal truths, spiritual values. Of course there is need of economic discipline. But is the present method of 4-year terms of office propitious to a wise, consistent, impartial, enlightened approach to public finance? Someone said that a nation is too important to be run by politicians (maybe it was me). I don’t know the answer, but a kind of politically independent ‘Supreme Court’ of Economic Planning might be worth considering.

It is time to put in place tough, new commonsense rules of the road so that our financial market rewards drive and innovation and punishes shortcuts and abuse…

Yes, the way of the swamp plant will not be tolerated any more. A pity that we had to look over the brink into the abyss of financial meltdown to admit the problem and to gather the political resolve to do something about it. Still, we are there now. Every crisis brings its opportunity. Perhaps this recognition of the swamp plants in the system will be the positive development out of this financial crisis, the tipping point that allows us to weed out the problem. Whenever I have a personal Waterloo, I always try to look at what the lesson is and I even tell myself ‘This was a cheap lesson’. In other words, the lesson, though expensive, will allow me to avoid even costlier mistakes in the future.

The only way this century will be another American century is if we confront at last the price of our dependence on oil and the high cost of health care, the schools that aren't preparing our children and the mountain of debt they stand to inherit. That is our responsibility… I see this document differently. I see it as a vision for America, as a blueprint for our future.

Could it be that Big Oil and Big Pharma lobbyists stood in the way of energy and health care reform? Could it be that a nation as technologically advanced as the United States could not have developed advanced biofuels 10 years ago? Could not have developed electric cars 10 or 20 years ago? Could not have been the leader in solar and clean energy use decades ago? Could not have implemented universal health care reform and efficiency? ‘Economics and politics are the governing powers of life today…’

History reminds us that, at every moment of economic upheaval and transformation, this nation has responded with bold action and big ideas… Now, none of this will come without cost, nor will it be easy. But this is America. We don't do what's easy. We do what's necessary to move this country forward.

The sleeping bear has gotten a wake up call. Whether Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big whatever-you-care-to-name like it or not, there will be changes around here, oh dearie me yes. That swamp-plant special-interest mentality has bankrupted America. Energy, health care and education reform will go forward now. How sweet it is.

Finally, because we're also suffering from a deficit of trust, I am committed to restoring a sense of honesty and accountability to our budget. That is why this budget looks ahead 10 years and accounts for spending that was left out under the old rules and, for the first time, that includes the full cost of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A deficit of trust. What a telling phrase. Such a deficit is worse than a budget deficit because it undermines the moral fabric of the nation. Sincerity is the treasure of a land.

To overcome extremism, we must also be vigilant in upholding the values our troops defend, because there is no force in the world more powerful than the example of America…Those of us gathered here tonight have been called to govern in extraordinary times. It is a tremendous burden, but also a great privilege, one that has been entrusted to few generations of Americans, for in our hands lies the ability to shape our world, for good or for ill.

For all its faults, I still feel that the United States is the closest thing to a utopia that we have on earth (perhaps with the exception of Canada!) The people are generous, hard working, tolerant and courageous. It only needs a leader and a government to harness those values, that strength and channel it in an enlightened way.

These words and these stories tell us something about the spirit of the people who sent us here. They tell us that, even in the most trying times, amid the most difficult circumstances, there is a generosity, a resilience, a decency, and a determination that perseveres, a willingness to take responsibility for our future and for posterity.

Here are echoes of the I Ching again: ‘If a time of scanty resources brings out an inner truth, one must not feel ashamed of simplicity. For simplicity is then the very thing needed to provide inner strength for further undertakings’. Churchill said the same thing: ‘We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival.’

Obama closes his address in a charismatic appeal to a simple, basic truth and common interest: love of country.

There are surely times in the future where we will part ways. But I also know that every American who is sitting here tonight loves this country and wants it to succeed…That must be the starting point for every debate we have in the coming months and where we return after those debates are done. That is the foundation on which the American people expect us to build common ground. And if we do, if we come together and lift this nation from the depths of this crisis, if we put our people back to work and restart the engine of our prosperity, if we confront without fear the challenges of our time and summon that enduring spirit of an America that does not quit, then some day, years from now, our children can tell their children that this was the time when we performed, in the words that are carved into this very chamber, "something worthy to be remembered."

Something worthy indeed. The stakes are high. Failure is not an option. Time to roll up the sleeves and work, sincerely, for a new vision.
Photo from Wikimedia

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Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)
Kiyomizudera Temple has a large veranda looking out over Kyoto and beyond