Posted by: Randy Allgaier | September 20, 2009

Change: the concept is easier than the reality for Americans


I started reading Richard Wolffe’s book “Renegade” this weekend and I’m about a third through it. I was a political junkie throughout 2008 and reveled in every moment of the campaign but Wolffe’s book is bringing the campaign back with a rush of visceral memory. I feel what I felt as my excitement about Barack Obama grew during 2008. At the end of 2007 I was a strong Edwards supporter, but by January 2008, I was convinced that there was something about Obama that was special and after some careful thinking and doing some homework, I decided to vote for him during the California primary. That support translated into thousands of dollars of contributions over the year and I nearly went to Nevada for a month in October, but my health wouldn’t allow it. While “Renegade” tells of the world inside of the campaign it brings back the emotions and, step by step, takes me back to how I felt and how I became more and more convinced that Barack Obama was the President we needed.

It’s interesting to read a book about the campaign nearly a year after the campaign is over and eight months into the Obama administration. Has the country forgotten on what Obama campaigned? Change in health care, change in how we regulate financial institutions, change in how we deal with the environment, change in how the nation values public education, CHANGE!

After a summer of teabaggers and angry town halls- one might forget that President Obama ran on a platform of change; the very change he is attempting to put into place as President. Elections have consequences. President Obama and the Democrats, by sweeping the House and the Senate, were given a mandate for change.

We haven’t seen a mandate like the one President Obama was given since Ronald Reagan swept into office a generation ago. Maybe naively we thought that since the President and Congress were given a mandate, it would be easy to make the sweeping changes that the President promised during the campaign.

Clearly the Republicans in Congress are not interested in helping the President in his agenda for change. Are we surprised? It wasn’t their platform. Don’t forget this is the party that gave us the McCain /Palin ticket. Theirs was not a message of change. Sure there is a lot of politics to why the Republicans do not support the President; politics to the point where some would like to crush him- Senator DeMint and his Warterloo remark comes to mind. But there is also a real disagreement between liberals and conservatives on the role of government. Conservatives think smaller government allows the market to take care of everything and that this brings prosperity to all, offers choice, and in this world of prosperity, private charity will flow and thus there is no need for a government social service safety net.

That all sounds good, but we live in the real world. This capitalism of Adam Smith is an idealistic capitalism. It sounds good in concept, but it doesn’t take into account human flaws. For capitalism to work in the idealized way that true blue conservatives believe, it requires that we all have a sense of fair play and keep greed at bay. As has been seen time and time again- all of these social constructs sound great in the abstract but when the human element is added- they don’t work so well.

At the end of 2008 we experienced the result of unbridled greed and unfettered markets and we’re still paying the price. In the real world government and private enterprise need each other in order for the people to prosper. Government needs to curb the greed in markets and it also has a role to play in our social contract- how we care for one another. As a wealthy civilized nation we have the duty to care for those in need, to offer a road out of poverty and to ensure that our people are healthy and well educated and that the world we pass on to the next generation is one that is not damaged by toxins and greenhouse gasses.

President Obama inherited an economy in turmoil and had come into office to both fix the economy and with a mandate for change. He applied Keynesian principles to fixing the economy- principles that are working- we are moving out of the Great Recession earlier than many had forecast. But that wasn’t the only change he promised and now he plans on delivering those changes.

In this blog I have written on more than one occasion that race plays into the politics when it comes to Barack Obama. President Carter addressed this head on but his remarks are being skewed to suggest that all opposition to President Obama is raced based. That is not at all what he said- he said a lot of the animosity towards the President is raced based. Is all opposition to the President animosity? I don’t believe so. There is subtle and not so subtle use of race and portrayal of Obama as the other, to create a scary bogeyman and to engender fear. But change is what is feared the most. Obama’s race and the changing complexion of America is part of that change, but not all of it.

When I have written about the role that race plays in the current political landscape I have espoused the belief that race is ever present in our nation and it is hard wired into our national psyche. There is ugliness to some of the debate in our nation that is clearly raced based and there is a core group- most clearly exemplified by the “birthers” and their ilk- that question the President’s legitimacy.  It would be naïve to suggest that all of those opposing Obama do so based on race alone. Sure it is there and it is the deciding factor for some, but it diminishes the true horror of racism to cavalierly suggest it is the only motive of the President’s detractors.

Social change is the real problem. But why? Obama ran on a platform of change and, shockingly is attempting to keep his campaign promises. Should we be surprised that Obama is committed to change? But social change is scary- and leads to labels like fascist or communist.

Obama like FDR has been accused of being a communist.

In the 1930s, opponents of FDR used the same kind of rhetoric and false political labels when he proposed creating what is now the most popular government program: Social Security. Critics called FDR “Red Roosevelt” and “a czar/dictator.” The American Liberty League called him a fascist (of course Roosevelt would later lead the United States in a war against fascism). In a strange similarity with another bellicose talk radio host of today, Father Charles Coughlin spouted invectives on the radio airwaves against Roosevelt. He called Roosevelt “a Communist in the chair once occupied by Washington” and said the New Deal was mired “in the Red mud of Soviet communism.” Opponents of the new Social Security program used some of the same hyperbole we hear today. Some Republican congressmen said the proposal would “threaten the integrity of our institutions” and “lead to a fingerprint test” for millions of Americans. The American Medical Association ridiculed the Roosevelt administration’s “attempt to evolve a plan of socialized medicine” and labeled supporters of the bill as “un-American.”

FDR addressed these opponents directly in one of his fireside chats. “A few timid people, who fear progress, will try to give you new and strange names for what we are doing. Sometimes they will call it ‘fascism,’ sometimes ‘communism,’ sometimes ‘regimentation,’ sometimes ‘socialism.’ But, in so doing, they are trying to make very complex and theoretical something that is really very simple and practical…I believe that what we are doing today is a necessary fulfillment of what Americans have always been doing – a fulfillment of old and tested American ideals.”

Sound familiar? Change is never easy- even when it is a necessity. The nation craves change but is also afraid of it. This is the conundrum that the President faces. Clearly without change we will be on a perilous road to irrelevancy. In our hearts we know this, but in our hearts we are terrified of changing the status quo. Unfortunately the minority with the most at stake in maintaining the status quo at the expense of the majority have no qualms about using that fear of change as a motivator.  After all fear is a great motivator.

History has a way of repeating itself. The first decade of the 21st century is not at all unlike the fourth decade of the 20th century. We need change if we are to survive. We voted for it, we knew it was what Barack Obama stood for and now we need to let him implement the mandate that we gave him.

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Responses

  1. I think what most people are afraid of is not just change in the sense of reform, its change in the sense of fundamental change.
    I hope I speak for a large majority of citizens on each side when I say that the American system is the best the world has ever known, no doubt it has faults, faults which need to be addressed.
    But these are merely reforms which need to be made to the existing system.
    People are afraid of the words “remake America”, and rightly should be.


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