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Deficit Attention Disorder: Or, how it´s up to us to make a President Obama face the larger deficits we suffer

By       Message José Tirado     Permalink
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While the odds of a McCain Presidency dwindle daily, it remains a quiet possibility and thus should not be dismissed entirely. Never underestimate the birthrate of suckers, I say. Surely, if a Republican administration is elected, it will be a transitional one, leaden with the terrifying prospect of Sarah Palin's ascension to the highest office in the country, and hobbled by its own scorched earth campaign against Barack Obama, whose adoring fans will not be happy or cooperative.

Republicans have knowingly and approvingly unleashed the hounds of hatred in a million coded and not so coded ways in this election, and the results may be felt in some attempt on Obama's life in the future. Everyone understands this and if it should happen, the "honorable" Sen. McCain should be held to account for not stopping it decisively when he had a chance. In fact, in my opinion, he will be most to blame since he is the head of his Party.

But it is the near-certain prospect of an Obama Presidency which concerns me here. The earlier incarnation of hope ("The One") remains an inspiring figure simply in terms of his racial background and what this means in a country where, when he was born, he wouldn't have been allowed to drink from public water fountains in many States. He has morphed of late into a "steady hand" and "decisive leader"; code words for everything-as-usual spokesperson for the nation's owning class and acquiescent caretaker of business interests. While our times are characterized by a looming financial crisis of Promethean proportions, it is far too easily overlooked that, when we rest upon the cusp of cliff, we should not be presented with platitudes and plans that differ little in any substantial way than those of this dying administration, or of a rival McCain administration.

The challenges are too great: our present budgetary deficit is 482 billion dollars or better than one billion dollars per person in the United States. We spend more on our military than the entirety of our allies and putative enemies combined, more than we actually spent during the Cold War, while now fighting two wars and supporting about 800 military bases around the world as well. Every fighter jet we make, every new base we establish, and every soldier we deploy to war removes from the political agenda attention to our changing climate, our education, and our prospects for a peaceful world. And do not believe for a second that the current meltdown in the financial sector will abate any time soon. Things will get worse, possibly much worse, before they will get any better.

Whatever else he is, the Left in the US should not underestimate the charismatic potential of Barack Obama. This is too often pooh-poohed amongst our intelligent commentators and eloquent thinkers, but his ability to draw hundreds of thousands of people to his rallies speaks both to a tremendous yearning of Americans for inspired leadership, and to his own considerable talents as a public speaker and speechwriter. All of this is not to say we should uncritically support him and his policies come what may. Absolutely not. What this is suggesting, is that we can use this ability of his to our advantage, because no one so convinced of their abilities will allow that image to be too badly tarnished without a fight.

Barack Obama is many things, but stupid is not one of them. Thus, our challenge is to call him on the greatest deficit we suffer from and that is the deficit of moral vision. Oh, a few ideas are circulating now: infrastructure reinvestment, government jobs programs, and takeovers of failing banks, for example. But it is a time for an even more ambitious call for change.

Forty years ago, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said the United States was "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today." He was right then, and things have not gotten much better today. Why? Because the proportion of our budget devoted to military expenses, and our incessant militarism is an obscene scar on democracy itself, and on the face of the image of greatness the United States desires to portray to the world. Perhaps that image has never matched reality. But the image is important nonetheless, and can be used for the good. We are now universally thought of as a dying empire, tenaciously clinging to outmoded means of persuasion (go it alone, gunboat style diplomacy) and dangerously outdated ideas of war and peace.

Why is it that both Democrats and Republicans invoke Dr. King's name when they want to glibly offer his moral authority against prejudice (the "content of his character" thing) but find such authority glaringly absent on the more profound issue of war and warmaking? And why is it that our people have become so complacent, continuing to allow the greatest transfer of wealth in human history to be directed to warmaking and its attendant enterprises? Why is it that righteous indignation doesn't mobilize the people into stopping the wheels of commerce, subverting the status quo, and demanding a redress of grievances that have piled up since we shifted our attention from being a Republic to becoming an empire? We have all grown far too complacent. It is our responsibility to demand an end to this terrible blind spot all our politicians suffer from.

Franklin Roosevelt, maybe the last man who as President people generally call great, was a scion of one of the richest families in the country with a not so lustrous intellectual background. And yes, it is true he quickly sensed the need for dramatic change in the face of terrible inequalities and social injustices. But his eyes were focused because throughout his time in office strikes were occurring, workers were organizing, people were demanding, and the culture unraveling, all asking what use is a government to rule the people if it is not of, by and for them as well?

Roosevelt was pushed daily into doing what was right, and the results, from the Wagner Act to Social Security, from a minimum wage to job creation, all came about because the anger and frustration was boiling over on the streets. And had he not acted as he did, a proto-fascist core of America-firsters might have hijacked the direction of our country, helped by big business and secretive financiers who dreamed of his overthrow and actually planned for it.

Roosevelt finally made peace with those same men who abhorred his "transfer of wealth", for that's what is was, but the people loved him for it and he is remembered fondly because of it. There is a lesson here for a President Obama, of course, but one for us as well.

The greatest deficit we suffer from is the deficit of attention to the idea that you can't create peace when you daily kill people around the world and sell armaments instead of food. We cannot be a moral force for good while we continue to deprive our own people of health care, schools, public transportation, and a commitment to the common good by blindly acquiescing to every new weapon system requested and evermore intrusion of the military-industrial complex into our lives. We cannot provide for the least among us while the richest benefit from military subcontract after contract and the war profiteers squeeze their earnings from the bodies of the innocent around the world.

We need not pillorize our military men and women who join for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the unavailability of alternatives. But we need not valorize unending militarization of our society as some noble enterprise, for it is decidedly not. If a President Obama does not address this deficit, then it is our moral duty to force him to, from the very first day of his Presidency to the last. And as it is a President's job to lead and to inspire, then we must concentrate our forces to remind him daily that a better, bolder vision of "America" needs to be created.

I have come to believe, contrary to all my rigidly held ideological prejudices, that Barack Obama can become a "great" President, by the standards such is usually measured. But he cannot, and will not, become that if we don't push him into that role. We can call up a mighty wind to blow at his back, advancing him forward to positions of moral goodness and social justice, or we can blow mightily against him if he ignores these concerns, and instead pays the pipers of Wall St. and the financiers of war and destruction.

Barack Obama must not accept that we have accepted him simply because we think he is great now, but because he might be. And if accept him we must, he needs to be reminded that his future greatness will be measured by the attention to this deficit, as much as to the budgetary one he will be reminded of as well.

 

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Jose' M. Tirado is a Puertorican poet, and writer living in HafnarfjorÃdegreesur, Iceland, known for its elves, "hidden people" and lava fields. His articles and poetry have been featured in CounterPunch, Cyrano -s Journal, The Galway Review, (more...)
 

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