October 25, 2009
By Chaz Valenza
President Obama's "Grab a Mop" speech grabbed me by the... I'm not going to agree with everything our current President says or does, but I have to agree with him that it's time to grab a mop. Allow me to elucidate.
I've been critical of the administration I supported and helped vote into the White House. Just review my past “Please Kill Me” posts. The evidence of my cynicism is all there.
But the other night a very wise man of color, and large of stature I might add, and I only mention this because of who he is and his job said, “I'm grabbing my mop and my broom and we're scrubbing the floors and trying to neaten things up.”
That single line pounded me in the gut and brought me straight back to earth. I quickly realized this man was making an important point. So, I listened closely to what he had to say.
“Instead of standing on the sidelines,” he continued, “why don't you grab a mop?” Well, if this man could grab a mop, was it beneath me to grab a mop? Because the man talking to me was the President of the United States of America.
Obama NYC Get a Mop 10/20/09 Photo by: Neil Mack
This wasn't over the phone or in some letter or on the television machine. Mr. Obama exhorted me in person. I don't think I have to tell you; I grabbed a mop.
And, lest you think I'm a sucker for a charismatic cult-of-personality, hear me out. I should say, hear him out for yourself. I'm not going to agree with everything our current President says or does, but I have to agree with him that it's time to grab a mop. Allow me to elucidate.
Speculation on the left has implied that Mr. Obama is going too slow or hasn't shown enough backbone or is in the pocket of Big Greed. To my face, he proceeded to disabuse me of that notion.
I had my questions. Are you in favor of real health care reform? Do you know we need to create jobs, jobs that will really contribute to our economic stability? Are you going to close Guantanamo? Do you believe war should be a last resort and are you being thoughtful about handling the ones we're currently fighting? Do you hear my anger and frustration over pseudo-capitalism and egregious corporate welfare? Can't we build a clean renewable energy system that will benefit us in priceless ways?
But there he was talking to me, not a bite taken from the sound, not a panic spinning. I obliged by suspending my disbelief. I'd like you to know the deep impression this little talk had on me. So, from here on, I'll be filtering his words, but I implore you to read everything he had to say for yourself: Here.
Obama NYC Crowd 10/20/09 Photo by: Neil Mack
Mr. Obama reminded me that it was only nine months to the day that he had been in office. He thanked me for my help, but then admonished me for my thinking that once the election campaign was over so was my job. Did I feel I was being treated like a child? Yes, but only because I was acting like a child and he made me feel that I was a big enough man to admit it.
Look, he said, “There's a whole industry feeding cynicism and skepticism, and promoting a notion of, well, it hasn't happened yet so it's not going to happen...
“I didn't run for President to accept mediocrity. That's not what this country is about. That's not why you got involved and got engaged.” He was right.
“You didn't decide, oh, this is actually harder than we expected. The insurance companies don't like health reform. I guess we'll just pack up and go home. Oh, well, the banks, they don't want financial regulation. I guess it's just too hard.” No, I didn't.
“We came to solve these problems – right here, right now.”
A couple of the other guys weren't quite so respectful. One shouted, “Single payer!” The other, “Public option!” Mr. Obama didn't flinch. My guess is after Joe Wilson's shout-out he'll never flinch again.
“...somebody just brought up something,” he halted and replied. “But understand that the bill you least like in Congress right now...”
A woman yelled, “Baucus!”
“... would provide 29 million Americans with health care... Would prevent insurance companies from barring you from getting health insurance because of a of preexisting conditions. Whatever the bill you least like would set up an exchange so that people right now who are having to try to bargain for health insurance on their own are suddenly part of a pool of millions that forces insurance companies to compete for their business and give them better deals and lower rates.”
He smiled and paused and gave it to me straight.
“You know, sometimes Democrats can be their own worst enemies. Democrats are an opinionated bunch. You know, the other side, they just kind of — sometimes — do what they're told. Democrats, you all are thinking for yourselves. I like that in you. But it's time for us to make sure that we finish the job here. We are this close. And we've got to be unified.
“But what I reject,” he said looking right in my eyes, “is when some folks decide to sit on the sidelines and root for failure on health care or they root for failure on reforming our energy system, or they root for failure on getting the Olympics. I mean, who's against the Olympics?”
Mr. Obama suddenly fell into a Seinfeld moment, “What's up with that? You know? That's a sad thing, isn't it? I mean, I don't care if you're Democrat or Republican, you know, it's the Olympics. Come on!”
“What I reject is when some folks,” he continued exasperated but determined, “all they've got to say is, let's go back and do the things that we were doing that got us into this mess in the first place.
“That's all — that's all they've got to say? Like we forgot? We didn't forget. It was only nine months ago. We understand exactly who and what got us into this mess. Now, we don't mind cleaning it up — I'm grabbing my mop and my broom and we're scrubbing the floors and trying to neaten things up.
“But don't just stand there and say, ‘You're not holding the mop right.' Don't just stand there and say, ‘You're not mopping fast enough.' Don't accuse me of having a socialist mop. Instead of standing on the sidelines, why don't you grab a mop? Help us clean up this mess and get America back on track! Grab a mop!”
Spontaneously, we all started shouting: Grab a mop! Grab a mop! Grab a mop!
I made five phone calls that night to organize support for robust health care reform that includes “Medicare for Everyone.” I'll make some more tomorrow and the day after.
Hey, you! Yes, you! We just got the job nine months ago. We're just getting started and so is President Obama. Grab a mop, please.
Chaz Valenza is writer and small business owner in New Jersey. He earned his MBA from New York University's Stern School of Business. His current feature film project is "Single Point Failure" an insider's account of how the Reagan Administration caused the greatest tragedy of the space age based on Richard C. Cook's book "Challenger Revealed." He is a former Director of Public Information for Planned Parenthood of NYC. His website is: www.WordsWillNever.com