WHAT A REAL PRESIDENT CAN DO

Taking an afternoon break from a writing project I switched on my television to discover President Barak Obama leading a seminar among Democratic and Republican Congressmen, Senators, Chamber of Commerce officials and other concerned experts at a White House meeting. The topic of the day was the country’s economic mess.

The conferees had spent the day broken into various groups: health care, social security, the budget deficit, Pentagon purchasing practices, etc. The president took the podium to ask for feedback from the various panels.

The first person he called on was Senator John McCain from the Pentagon group. McCain brought up the cost of the controversial program to replace the presidential helicopter fleet, noting that it would end up costing more than Air Force One. Unfazed, President Obama agreed with McCain, remarking that he’d already asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates to look into the matter. Obama added that as far as he could determine the present helicopters seemed fine to him, adding with a smile that as this was his first helicopter ever and that, “maybe I was deprived without knowing it.”

Topic after topic was addressed with the knowledgeable president seemingly in control of each subject.

His fearlessness came through when one respondent, talking about health care, warned that public discussion should avoid certain buzzwords that may prove toxic to progress. “You mean like socialized medicine,” interjected the president.

Cable TV’s talking heads are coming around to agreeing that Americans want to hear the truth, rejecting former President Bush’s Jack Nicholson-like evasions that, “you can’t handle the truth.”

For example, Obama’s new budget will forswear the off budget “trickery” of the Bush years by including the cost of two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As one more retiree who’s watched his life savings of pension and 401k plans melt in half over the past 16 months, I’m paying extra attention to the new administration.

I’m recalling the quietude of the Eisenhower administration to Kennedy-era excitement, Lyndon B. Johnson’s brave social progress offset by his quixotic pursuit of victory in Vietnam; nailing Nixon’s paranoia and price controls, Ford’s word-fight against inflation, then Carter’s: malaise, oil embargoes, and very expensive 20 percent interest rates; Ronald Reagan’s cheery unfounded optimism as he doubled America’s national debt, followed by George H.W, Bush’s first Iraq oil war and five hundred billion dollar savings bank bail out.

Next came Bill Clinton’s focused rescue of the American economy putting the budget in surplus until the Supreme Court gave us George II. This accidental presidency of a Texas tyro did us in altogether by replicating Reagan’s doubling of the national debt all the way to 10 trillion dollars. His “leadership” was so lacking that I don’t have space here to list all of his failures.

Let’s just agree that we’re not better off today than we were eight years ago.

Now come President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden. Two true Democrats who believe in and respect the intelligence the people of America enough to actually address the nation’s ills.

The Middle Class, for starters, has been getting the short end of the stick for a decade. Family incomes are down, expenses are up and the fat cats on Wall Street have run away with everyone’s money. You know that things have gone haywire when the granddaughter and heir of the Bank of America’s founder calls its management “idiots” who have abandoned the founder’s moral approach to serving customers by keeping their trust. Her stock’s value has disappeared, and she’s mad as hell. Why we don’t have riots in the streets is a mystery to me.

The American public, to our credit, is slow to anger, but patience has its limits. Trust engraved on the side of a big bank building means nothing when it’s absent from management’s greedy heart. Better: Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa! Just in time for Lent, too.

The conspiracy theorists have it right: Humpty Dumpty (i.e., America’s economy) was pushed. All the King’s horses and all the King’s men are names we’re beginning to know all too well: Ben Bernanke, Tim Geithner, Larry Summers and Paul Volker are charged with the greatest reconstruction of wealth in history. Trillions in value has been shriven from markets from New York, to London, to Mumbai. Confidence in the world’s economies has gone from riches to rags, from millionaires to slumdogs, 401k’s to 201k’s.

As a Yellow Dog Democrat I have faith not only in Barack Obama’s intelligence, but also in his instincts to do right by the great majority of hard working Americans.

He’s the change we’ve long been waiting for, and have been missing for so long that many voters may not believe it at first.

Instead of a poseur as nominal president and “decider,” we now have a thinking person willing to debate the issues before unfriendly crowds, able to argue his points, and demand “constructive” criticism from the minority party.

His urgent attitude of “lead, follow or get out of the way” is what works in the military and is what we again have in the White House.

And, it’s not a moment too soon. Thank God!

Jim Cahillane is a freelance writer and poet. He lives in Williamsburg.

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