Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Now it's time to get to work

I'm not trapped in a St. Elsewhere-style dream sequence after all.

Four years after signing on for another dose of overprivileged, ill-equipped, tunnel-vision leadership from George W. Bush, my country has inaugurated a worldly, intelligent, charismatic man from a modest background as its 44th president. It was a stunning about-face. It seemed too sudden, too drastic of a shift to be true. But it was real. I saw it with my own two eyes.

Further, that worldly, intelligent, charismatic president happens to be a black man named Barack Obama, which, as you may have heard more than once in the last few days, is kinda sorta a very big deal given our nation's history. As strongly as I believe that American history is a steady progression toward a more accepting and inclusive society, I hardly would have believed even 10 years ago that I'd live to see what happened Tuesday.

Over the last year, the Obama campaign and inauguration accomplished something I hadn't thought possible before: It melted away the cynicism that had become my default approach to politics. For the first time in my life, we have a president who I supported not because I saw him as more palatable than the alternative but because I actually thought he was the right person for the job. For the first time in my life, we have a president who has convinced me that politics can be about more than senseless division and false promises. For the first time in my life, we have a president who makes me believe that politics can be the American people's friend and not our enemy.

But now that Tuesday has become Wednesday, the glamour of ebullient crowds and inaugural balls has begun to fade into the mundane processes of governance. When the country wakes up in a few hours, we'll find that challenging times threaten to swallow Obama's presidency whole before it even gets off the launch pad. It'd be easy to look at what Obama has inherited -- two costly wars, a cratering economy, and deeply flawed education and health care systems, just to pull a few items off the list -- and throw your hands up in disgust, frustration, and hopelessness.

With great challenge, though, comes great opportunity -- opportunity to heal America's wounded international reputation, opportunity to restore America's economy to a sound footing that gives everyone the chance to get ahead, opportunity to come together to build a stronger America where everyone is welcome regardless of surface differences like race or religion.

Our nation's greatest presidents -- Washington, Lincoln, FDR -- have been the ones who took over amid great crises and rallied Americans to work hard for a common cause and a brighter tomorrow. There's no guarantee that Obama will have what it takes to join that list. But there's no question that he assumes our nation's highest office at a time when our crises are of the breadth and depth that gave rise to the great presidents of our past.

For all our sakes, may God help Obama live up to their legacies.


Blogger Kate Shuster said...

Nice post.

6:48 PM  
Blogger Politics Alabama said...

It's been a month since your entry, and since then there's been little to inspire hope. He's pushed through a massive spending program that nobody had time to read, much less understand, prior to its passage. He's talking about gun control, tax increases, and isn't above fiddling with economic forecasts to make them "more optimistic" and fit his plans. It's going to be a rough four years if all this has happened in the first month or so.

10:35 AM  
Blogger Alabamian said...

President Obama's first month had its ups and downs, but we'll have to agree to disagree on its overall quality. He's had some pretty major accomplishments in a pretty short amount of time.

Gun control? According to this article, Obama would sign a bill that right now includes a provision that would repeal most gun control laws in Washington, D.C.

3:35 AM  
Blogger Politics Alabama said...

Yes, we'll have to disagree. I don't think out-of-control spending is a good thing, but hey, I'm just one guy, you know.

As to gun control, Obama is in favor of more than one type of gun control. See this link for details.

9:16 AM  
Blogger Alabamian said...

I don't like that the economy has reached this point any more than you do. But America tried widespread deregulation and big tax cuts that primarily benefited the wealthy for eight years, and it got us where we are today. I'm willing to give a different approach -- targeted investments intended to create jobs and leave us with public goods like better roads and schools -- a chance.

As for budget transparency, I think economic forecasts beyond about next Thursday are little more than informed guesswork given the state of the economy right now. But I do think it's a big improvement to have a president actually acknowledge the annual costs of things like the Iraq war and the AMT patch.

11:50 PM  
Blogger Politics Alabama said...

Not true, Al. Though some regulations were removed during the Bush years, many more were added, for a net increase in regulations. That isn't deregulation, widespread or otherwise. As far as tax cuts, where else can you cut taxes? Tax cuts on those who don't pay taxes are an impossibility. Logically, cutting taxes on those who pay the most taxes makes sense.

As to deregulation and tax cuts "getting us where we are today", that's nonsense. Heck, quite a bit of our problems were caused by government regulations requiring businesses to take certain actions... and those actions led to difficulties. Government intervention can't "fix" a problem that was caused in part by government intervention.

Oh, yes, Obama talks a good game, I understand this. But his budget projections are wildly optimistic... and that's being kind. His economic plan assumes the economy GROWS next year at more than 3%. Most economists place the max growth figure next year at about 1.5%, and many aren't even sure the economy won't shrink more next year. But Obama is "standing by" his figures.

Look, imagine that you have maxed out all your credit cards and have little savings left. Do you think that its a good idea to get more credit cards and load them to the limit as you purchase a bunch of new stuff? That's Obama's theory of economic recovery.

7:28 AM  
Blogger Politics Alabama said...

Alabamian, I want you to take a look at what is happening. Already, with Obama's punitive taxation on the most productive and innovative in our society ONLY in the planning stage, people are trying to figure out how to earn less so they aren't punished for success. That means less economic growth, i.e. slower growth.

8:59 AM  
Blogger Alabamian said...

Again, we've tried a presidency with an economic philosophy centered on deregulation -- regulations were reduced in some key ways, even if some others were added -- and tax cuts that primarily benefited the wealthy. We've ended up here. (I'm unsure who falls into the category of people "who don't pay taxes," as just about everyone pays sales tax and payroll tax.)

One of the problems in the economy right now is a relative lack of demand. (It's certainly not the only problem, but it's a big one.) The idea of the stimulus package is for the government to create or maintain demand with public works projects and aid to states. Then, when times are better, we can pay down that debt. Will it work? It worked during the New Deal, but only time will tell if it works again today. We haven't had a chance to see one way or the other.

I frankly doubt that many people who make millions of dollars a year will cut back their earnings drastically just to avoid paying a few more percentage points of those millions in marginal taxation. Most people still would rather have the millions.

I don't think taxes exist to punish success. I think they're the unpleasant but necessary price to pay for an orderly society that benefits everyone, rich and poor.

9:55 AM  
Blogger Politics Alabama said...

Look, lowering taxes while increasing spending is like trying to lose weight by drinking diet cola and eating chocolate cake. Half the formula just doesn’t work. The idea is to dramatically decrease government interference in the free market (Bush didn’t do that), decrease taxes (Bush did a little), and decrease spending. Bush didn’t do that last one at all, instead growing government at a faster pace than Clinton ever dreamed. We don’t need larger budget deficits, we need permanent budget surpluses so we can pay down the massive national debt that every President in recent years seems to think is hunky-dory.

You said: “I don't think taxes exist to punish success.” You know, it doesn’t matter why things exist, everything has some effect. And the effect of taxes is to discourage the thing being taxed. Isn’t that also the function of a punishment? It we tax savings, people save less. If we tax spending, people spend less. Remember MANY years ago when a new, punitively harsh luxury tax was put on boats? People stopped buying boats, especially the large, luxury yachts… and the industry suffered massively. That’s what taxes do. If taxes aren’t punitive and don’t discourage people from doing whatever is taxed, then why do politicians claim that raising taxes sky-high on tobacco would discourage people from smoking? The same logic is used by gun-grabbers to support taxes on ammunition, i.e. if they tax it high enough then fewer people will buy ammunition, and we have a de facto gun ban.

Finally, you are laboring under a massive misconception. Massive government spending during the New Deal did NOT reduce the unemployment rate and did NOT result in an economic recovery. I’m not sure why many people think the New Deal worked, because it didn’t.

“When all of these tax increases are taken into account, New Deal fiscal policy didn’t do much to promote recovery. Today, a tax cut for the middle class is a good idea — and the case for repealing the Bush tax cuts for higher-income earners is weaker than it may have seemed a year or two ago.”

“The fact is, the New Deal was supposed to get us out of the Depression, and the economic trough of the 1930s lasted longer than any other in American history. Is that prima facie evidence that the New Deal worked, or that it didn't? To me, it's evidence that it did not work, at least not very well.”

The larger debate over the New Deal is not really whether it helped end the Depression. On that score, most agree that the Depression lingered throughout the 1930s despite Roosevelt's effort to end it and create a growing, expanding American economy.

11:17 AM  
Blogger Politics Alabama said...

For some reason the links didn't post in their entirety. Not sure why. I will try to repost them here.

First Article

Second Article

Third Article

11:25 AM  
Blogger Alabamian said...

I agree on the need to pay down the debt in the long run. I think it's an effort that will include both higher taxes for some people and cuts in programs that some people find important. But a big reduction in government spending right now likely would result in even higher unemployment, and that's exactly the opposite of what we need.

I also long have believed that the Bush strategy of cutting taxes and boosting spending was nonsensical and ignored reality. Politicians should be honest about the long-term cost of public services and acknowledge that free lunches just don't exist. That way, the American people can decide which programs are worth the tax dollars and which ones should be scaled back or eliminated. I think Obama's incorporation of the costs of things like the Iraq war and the AMT patch into the budget is a good start in that area.

Taxes can discourage some behaviors if the rates are high enough, but I highly doubt that letting marginal income tax rates for the wealthiest taxpayers go up a few percentage points -- back to where they were during the economic expansion of the 1990s -- will discourage people who can make millions from trying to make millions.

As for the New Deal, it was far from perfect, but FDR got the economy growing again and cut unemployment almost in half in a few years, as your second link shows. The temporary downturn in 1937-38 came when FDR cut back on spending before the recovery was complete. And yes, the Great Depression didn't come to a complete stop until World War II -- a time of massive government spending.

I've appreciated the debate, even if we disagree on some points. I've added a link to your site, as I've meant to do for a few weeks.

9:30 PM  
Blogger Politics Alabama said...

"But a big reduction in government spending right now likely would result in even higher unemployment"

I will disagree. The economy works primarily because of PRIVATE enterprise. A massive increase in government spending can't and won't replace private economic activity. It didn't work during the 1930's, when unemployment stayed high regardless of how much government spent, and it won't work now.

As to FDR, although unemployment did drop some for a while, it never dropped out of double digits. FDR never got a handle on unemployment, try as he might. Because government spending cannot run a vibrant economy.

In the words of Henry Morganthau, FDR's Treasury Secretary, in 1939: "We have tried spending money. We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work. And I have just one interest, and if I am wrong ... somebody else can have my job. I want to see this country prosperous. I want to see people get a job. I want to see people get enough to eat. We have never made good on our promises ... I say after eight years of this Administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started ... And an enormous debt to boot!"

As to the other, I have to agree with you. I like intelligent debate on subjects and issues, regardless of whether we agree with each other. Too many sites indulge in attacks and emotion. Thanks for the debate.

6:22 AM  
Blogger Alabamian said...

Private enterprise is and will continue to be the country's primary employer. But when demand slows in the private sector, as is the case now, sometimes the public sector has to fill that role temporarily until the private sector can get back on its feet.

Recovery from the Great Depression was slow, but that was for a reason. A full quarter of the country was unemployed, and that's not something that can be turned around overnight. Not until World War II did the economy rebound at last.

I can't promise that I don't get emotional here from time to time, but I do try to stay away from personal attacks. Thanks for sharing that view.

11:00 PM  

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