Oh, What You Said!

The President of the United States, speaking yesterday at Carnegie-Mellon, the school what matriculated my very own Grannie G.

In a global economy, we can’t pursue this agenda in a vacuum. At the height of the financial crisis, the coordinated action we took with the nations of the G20 prevented a global depression and helped restore worldwide growth. And as we’ve recently witnessed in Europe, economic difficulties in one part of the world can affect everybody else. And that’s why we have to keep on working with the nations of the G20 to pursue more balanced growth. That’s why we need to coordinate financial reform with other nations so that we avoid a global race to the bottom. It’s why we need to open new markets and meet the goal of my National Export Initiative: to double our exports over the next five years. And it’s why we need to ensure that our competitors play fair and our agreements are enforced. This, too, is part of building a new foundation.

Now, some of you may have noticed that we have been building this foundation without much help from our friends in the other party. From our efforts to rescue the economy, to health insurance reform, to financial reform, most have sat on the sidelines and shouted from the bleachers. They said no to tax cuts for small businesses; no to tax credits for college tuition; no to investments in clean energy. They said no to protecting patients from insurance companies and consumers from big banks.

And some of this, of course, is just politics. Before I was even inaugurated, the congressional leaders of the other party got together and made a calculation that if I failed, they’d win. So when I went to meet with them about the need for a Recovery Act, in the midst of crisis, they announced they were against it before I even arrived at the meeting. Before we even had a health care bill, a Republican senator actually said, “If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.” So those weren’t very hopeful signs.

But to be fair, a good deal of the other party’s opposition to our agenda has also been rooted in their sincere and fundamental belief about the role of government. It’s a belief that government has little or no role to play in helping this nation meet our collective challenges. It’s an agenda that basically offers two answers to every problem we face: more tax breaks for the wealthy and fewer rules for corporations.

The last administration called this recycled idea “the Ownership Society.” But what it essentially means is that everyone is on their own. No matter how hard you work, if your paycheck isn’t enough to pay for college or health care or childcare, well, you’re on your own. If misfortune causes you to lose your job or your home, you’re on your own. And if you’re a Wall Street bank or an insurance company or an oil company, you pretty much get to play by your own rules, regardless of the consequences for everybody else.

Now, I’ve never believed that government has all the answers. Government cannot and should not replace businesses as the true engine of growth and job creation. Government can’t instill good values and a sense of responsibility in our children. That’s a parent’s job. Too much government can deprive us of choice and burden us with debt. Poorly designed regulations can choke off competition and the capital that businesses need to thrive.

I understand these arguments. And it’s reflected in my policies. After all, one-third of the Recovery Act we designed was made up of tax cuts for families and small businesses. And when you think back to the health care debate, despite calls for a single-payer, government-run health care plan, we passed reform that maintains our system of private health insurance.

But I also understand that throughout our nation’s history, we have balanced the threat of overreaching government against the dangers of an unfettered market. We’ve provided a basic safety net, because any one of us might experience hardship at some time in our lives and may need some help getting back on our feet. And we’ve recognized that there have been times when only government has been able to do what individuals couldn’t do and corporations wouldn’t do.

That’s how we have railroads and highways, public schools and police forces. That’s how we’ve made possible scientific research that has led to medical breakthroughs like the vaccine for Hepatitis B, and technological wonders like GPS. That’s how we have Social Security and a minimum wage, and laws to protect the food we eat and the water we drink and the air that we breathe. That’s how we have rules to ensure that mines are safe and, yes, that oil companies pay for the spills that they cause.

Now, there have always been those who’ve said no to such protections; no to such investments. There were accusations that Social Security would lead to socialism, and that Medicare was a government takeover. There were bankers who claimed the creation of federal deposit insurance would destroy the industry. And there were automakers who argued that installing seatbelts was unnecessary and unaffordable. There were skeptics who thought that cleaning our water and our air would bankrupt our entire economy. And all of these claims proved false. All of these reforms led to greater security and greater prosperity for our people and our economy.

So what was true then is true today. As November approaches, leaders in the other party will campaign furiously on the same economic arguments they’ve been making for decades. Fortunately, we don’t have to look back too many years to see how their agenda turns out. For much of the last 10 years we’ve tried it their way. They gave us tax cuts that weren’t paid for to millionaires who didn’t need them. They gutted regulations and put industry insiders in charge of industry oversight. They shortchanged investments in clean energy and education, in research and technology. And despite all their current moralizing about the need to curb spending, this is the same crowd who took the record $237 billion surplus that President Clinton left them and turned it into a record $1.3 trillion deficit.

So we know where those ideas lead us. And now we have a choice as a nation. We can return to the failed economic policies of the past, or we can keep building a stronger future. We can go backward, or we can keep moving forward. And I don’t know about you, but I want to move forward. I think America wants to move forward.

What’s been missing in the debate over the issue of the day has been swats at the larger issue. He’s getting warmer. But it’s more like 30 years. And it’s far more pervasive and sinister than he’s able to acknowledge. The fact of the matter is that government isn’t yet drowning in that bathtub, a visual that only a conservative like Grover Norquist would be twisted enough to even put into thought let alone words, but it’s certainly treading water. To the point that when Obama made a point of saying that the federal government was actually in charge of BP’s attempts to quell the oil geyser, I didn’t believe him and still don’t. The reason there is an oil geyser to begin with is that the government isn’t in charge of anything. I can hope that the President will continue to espouse the long view of things and that he will go even longer. But I suspect that his remarks of yesterday were as broad as he can go.

FDR. There’s a guy who knew how to take the long view:

For nearly four years you have had an Administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up.

We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace: business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me – and I welcome their hatred.

I was thinking last night as I took my evening constitutional: There is a part of the FDR Memorial here in Washington that memorializes soup kitchens. Seriously. It looks like this:

It memorializes soup kitchens and/or bread lines. As if to say, that was something that happened, you know, “back then.” And it won’t ever happen again.

I dunno about that. Not when you’ve got people who are apparently willing and able to sit in the hot sun and hold up signs that depict the President of these Untied States as Hitler who are begging for the country to become an all-out plutocracy, unable to understand somehow that doing so simply renders them as supplicants and serfs.

No, methinks a lot more people will be standing in those lines soon. They’re just begging for it.

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