Bill Grant Column December 30, 2009
For many, the real New Year begins on January 20
Tomorrow night families, friends and strangers across America will raise a glass to “auld lang syne,” ceremoniously welcoming the New Year. But for many of us, 2008 will not truly begin until Jan. 20, when Barack Hussein Obama is sworn in as our 44th president. Only with the breaking of that dawn will the nation awaken from the dark nightmare of the last eight years.
This fading nightmare began with the failure to produce a clear choice for president in the 2000 election. For the first time in history, our leader was not chosen by the people or their representatives, but installed by a deeply divided Supreme Court. The same division split the nation like a fault line unequalled since the Civil War turned these United States into a house divided against itself. Now as then, such a nation can neither ensure domestic tranquility, nor lead the family of nations that once looked to our shores for example and inspiration.
Bush administration contempt for the Constitution and expansion of presidential powers have weakened the structure of government at the very moment the country is plunging toward another Great Depression. As capitalism once again collapses from its own excesses, and panic threatens to set in, economists are saying that Obama’s task is to save capitalism, just as President Franklin D. Roosevelt did in the 1930s.
“Saving capitalism” might seem an ironic mission, considering that capitalism got us into this economic mess. However, restoring economic stability will be among Obama’s first objectives the day he takes office, and that means pumping some energy back into a system that foundered itself in an excess of greed.
We have seen with the Bush administration the results of government of the capitalists, by the capitalists, and for the capitalists. In saving capitalism, Obama, like his predecessor Roosevelt, will probably do so by imposing restrictions on the capitalists that they are unable to impose on themselves.
Saving capitalism for Obama will mean policies less friendly to business than those of the Bush administration. Creating jobs with good wages, rebuilding critical infrastructure, developing a national health care plan, implementing sustainable environmental policies, and freeing the nation from imported oil with renewable energy will strengthen the economy, though it may not please the capitalists.
But there is more to America than capitalism, and more than simply strengthening the economy to restoring our national health. Obama has a bigger job than just saving capitalism. He needs to save America by returning her to the fundamental principles of democracy that have been usurped under the Bush/Cheney theory of a “unitary executive.”
The economic deficit left by the Bush administration is equaled by the loss of cultural capital, both at home and abroad. Along with rebuilding the economy, Obama must restore our belief, and the world’s, in the “American promise” he so eloquently described in his nomination speech.
Obama enters an office that used a national tragedy to manipulate the nation into an elective war against a country that posed no threat to the United States, legalized torture and scoffed at the Geneva Convention, subjected American citizens as well as foreign nationals to indeterminate confinement without charges or trials for unnamed crimes, and suspended Habeas Corpus, the Great Writ that protects all our other individual rights.
Our new president has no greater responsibility than to restore honor and credibility to the office he holds. Only then will he be able to assure the world that we are a nation that does not torture, that does not illegally spy on its citizens, that does not subordinate the rights of the individual to the power of the state, and that uses force only in response to a direct and credible threat or attack. Only then will America again deserve the loyalty of her citizens, and the esteem of nations.
I may raise one or two glasses on New Year’s Eve, but my toast won’t be to the good old days of “auld lang syne.” I had much rather look forward to Jan. 20 and lift my glass to President Obama. May he lead us wisely; may we follow him well. The American promise lies before us if we will only reach for it.