Sunday, October 17, 2010

In Search of Sanity

Perhaps Frank Rich is right. Sanity will not return to American politics until there is "a decisive rescue from our prolonged economic crisis." Until then, he wrote in Sunday's New York Times:

Don't expect the extremism and violence in our politics to subside magically after Election Day -- no matter what the results. If Tea Party candidates triumph, they'll be emboldened. If they lose, the anger and bitterness will grow. . . Not for the first time in history -- and not just American history -- fear itself is at the root of a rabid outbreak of populist rage against government, minorities and conspiratorial "elites."

Even if Republicans regain control of both houses, Barack Obama will still be president on November 3rd. What will he do? What should he have done before Americans reached this crossroads? In the most recent edition of The New York Review of Books, Michael Tomasky wrote an extremely perceptive analysis of what has gone wrong for the Democrats:

In American politics, Republicans routinely speak in broad themes and tend to blur the details, while Democrats typically ignore broad themes and focus on details. Republicans, for example, routinely speak of "liberty" and "freedom" and couch practically all their initiatives -- tax cuts, deregulation, and so forth -- within these large categories. Democrats, on the other hand, talk more about specific programs and policies and steer clear of big themes.
What Democrats have typically not done well since Reagan's time is to connect their policies to their larger beliefs. In fact they have usually tried to hide those beliefs, or change the conversation when the subject arose. The result has been for many years that the Republicans have been able to present their philosophy as somehow truly "American," while attacking the Democratic belief system as contrary to American values.

Many commentators have noted that, while Ronald Reagan sought to repeal much of what Roosevelt put in place, his leadership template came straight from Roosevelt. President Obama will have to face whatever the storm leaves behind on November 3rd. In preparing for the aftermath, he could do worse than to return to Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms" speech -- delivered a month after Pearl Harbor. In that address, Roosevelt enumerated what he saw as the four essentials -- not just for Americans, but for all human beings:

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression -- everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way -- everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want -- which translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants -- everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear, which translated into world terms, means a world reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit a physical act of aggression against any neighbor -- anywhere in the world. This is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our time and our generation.That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.

Roosevelt's speech married vision and and poetry -- something Obama did during the 2008 campaign -- but something he has not done in office and something he is not doing now. The President has often expressed his admiration for Mr. Lincoln. One hopes he has the same admiration for Mr. Roosevelt. And one hopes that Roosevelt will act as a muse as Mr. Obama addresses his nation in the future.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

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