Many observers on the Left have been concerned with signals coming out of the Obama Transition team that may indicate the political and policy directions in which he may be going and from our own Mark Karlin (1/11/09): “Message to Barack – You are Carrying Things a Bit Too Far with This “Bipartisan” Nonsense. The Repubs are Just Going to Betray You, So Start Punching and Stop Trying to be “Liked” by Everyone. “Obama to honor McCain on inauguration eve.” Yuch!”) I have shared those concerns, for example in regard of the abominable choice of Rick Warren to do the inaugural invocation.
Now, some of these matters, such as the Rick Warren and honoring-John-McCain things, may possibly be nothing more than matters of window dressing. (The Warren thing has now been partially, while belatedly, balanced by the choice of the openly gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson for the Sunday Inaugural event.) More importantly, on certain central policy matters, there are some encouraging signs. Consider: doing what needs to be done to rescue a rapidly failing economy and placing the blame for the horror-show that it is where blame needs to be placed; restoring the role of government to that envisioned by the Founders in the much-ignored Preamble to the Constitution rather than the oft-cited contra-Constitutional “government is the problem” policy of the reactionary Ronald Reagan and the so-called liberal Bill Clinton; and what is to me most important of all, the restoration of the rule of Law and Constitutional government.
On January 8, 2009, President-elect Obama gave a very important speech on the economy. It got little attention in the media. For example, while I did not watch all three hours of it, many of the portions of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that I did watch on January 9 were consumed with a detailed report of Sarah Palin’s self-pitying hour-long interview with a right-wing talk show host. You know. It was the media and those evil people in the McCain Campaign who did her in. Nothing significant in The New York Times either. But Mr. Obama did say some very significant things in that speech, and I quote:
“This crisis did not happen solely by some accident of history or normal turn of the business cycle, and we won’t get out of it by simply waiting for a better day to come, or relying on the worn-out dogmas of the past. We arrived at this point due to an era of profound irresponsibility that stretched from corporate boardrooms to the halls of power in Washington, DC. For years, too many Wall Street executives made imprudent and dangerous decisions, seeking profits with too little regard for risk, too little regulatory scrutiny, and too little accountability. Banks made loans without concern for whether borrowers could repay them, and some borrowers took advantage of cheap credit to take on debt they couldn’t afford. Politicians spent taxpayer money without wisdom or discipline, and too often focused on scoring political points instead of the problems they were sent here to solve. The result has been a devastating loss of trust and confidence in our economy, our financial markets, and our government. . . . Now, the very fact that this crisis is largely of our own making means that it is not beyond our ability to solve. Our problems are rooted in past mistakes, not our capacity for future greatness.”
“It is true that we cannot depend on government alone to create jobs or long-term growth, but at this particular moment, only government can provide the short-term boost necessary to lift us from a recession this deep and severe. Only government can break the vicious cycles that are crippling our economy – where a lack of spending leads to lost jobs which leads to even less spending; where an inability to lend and borrow stops growth and leads to even less credit. . . . That work begins with this plan — a plan I am confident will save or create at least three million jobs over the next few years.”
And then he presents summaries of the major planned initiatives in energy, physical infrastructure, health care infrastructure, relief to state governments, and so on.
Consider this statement in the context of the Constitution’s Preamble, ignored by Republican and Democratic Presidents alike since the pre-Vietnam Lyndon Johnson: “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Yessir. That’s a formula for a very active Federal government, just like what Obama is talking about. On top of that, he had the temerity to use the word “plan,” a word many in Washington wouldn’t know how to define. Ohmygosh.
Then there is the matter of the restoration of the Rule of Law. Want to know why the Senate Republicans are out to make the confirmation hearings for Eric Holder so tough? It has nothing to do with Marc Rich or Elian Gonzalez or Mr. Holder’s private law practice. It has everything to do with the thought that he expressed in a speech he, a Board member of the American Constitution Society (the left’s answer to the right-wing lawyer’s Federalist Society), gave to the ACS in June 2008 (quoted from a Jan. 9 e-mail letter from People for the American Way):
“I never thought I would see the day when a Justice Department would claim that only the most extreme infliction of pain and physical abuse constitutes torture and that acts that are merely cruel, inhuman and degrading are consistent with United States law and policy, that the Supreme Court would have to order the president of the United States to treat detainees in accordance with the Geneva Convention, never thought that I would see that a president would act in direct defiance of federal law by authorizing warrantless NSA surveillance of American citizens. This disrespect for the rule of law is not only wrong, it is destructive in our struggle against terrorism.”
How about them apples?
Finally, consider this item from The Progress Report of Jan. 12, 2009: Roll Call reports that some top business lobbyists are privately grumbling “that they lack the kind of access they had at the beginning of the Bush administration and wonder if their agendas are being taken seriously.”
Guarantees? Surely not. Positive straws in the wind indicating which way the Obama Administration will be blowing on fundamental issues? I am hopeful.
Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and a www.TPJmagazine.us Contributing Author; a regular Columnist for BuzzFlash; a Special Contributing Editor for Cyrano’s Journal Online; a Contributing Columnist for the Project for the Old American Century, POAC; and a Featured Writer for Dandelion Salad https://dandelionsalad.wordpress.com/.