30 January 2013: Compromise is the only solution

Compromise is the only solution

Call him an aggressive progressive.  In his full-throated declaration of progressive values in his inauguration speech, President Barack Obama eloquently states the case for modern liberalism.  No apologies here.

Obama draws upon advances made throughout history to make the case our ascent has been an ongoing progression from the notion the status quo is good enough.

He emphasizes it was “together” we moved forward and only together can we keep building that “perfect union.”

Thomas Paine, much admired in revolutionary America for his pamphlet “Common Sense,” writes in “Rights of Man” in 1791, “The mutual dependence and reciprocal interest which man has upon man, and all the parts of civilised community upon each other, create that great chain of connection which holds it together.”

Two hundred plus years and 43 presidents later, Obama echoes that: “Preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.”

Collective effort: the essence of teamwork.  Coach Obama reminds us there is no i in “team.

“Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.”

Capitalism unchecked leads to economic despotism.  We understand, he noted, America “cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.”

Like the pioneers who counted on one another for survival, so too are we pioneers as move forward into a brave, new world replete of technological marvels but full of challenges and teeming with a massive population in which America is no longer the “It Girl.”

The 97 percent who are not Americans want a piece of the pie.  We can work cooperatively to create an economic rising tide or face Armageddon, economic and otherwise.

“Enduring security and lasting peace,” he declares, “do not require perpetual war,” a clear repudiation of his predecessor’s worldview.

Obama makes a direct assault on the economic neo-liberalism of the hard right as espoused by former Republican candidate for the vice-presidency, Paul Ryan.  The safety net, a creation of modern liberal economic policies, has for the most part kept the most vulnerable from living and dying under the direst conditions.

Again Obama echoes Paine who writes, “Government is no farther necessary than to supply the few cases to which society and civilisation are not conveniently competent.”

Today that means Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, which, he avers, “do not sap our initiative, they strengthen us.”

“We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few,” says the President.  “They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”

“Takers” – the language of Ayn Rand, the goddess in Mitt Romney’s and Ryan’s economic pantheon.

From 1791 to 2013 we have evolved from saying “rights of man” to saying “human rights.”

“Our journey is not complete,” Obama asserts, “until…

  • our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.
  • our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.
  • no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.
  • we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.
  • all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia, to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm.”

A friend, reader, and intellectual sparring partner wrote me, “You have finally made the problem crystal clear to me.  Democrats want good things for everyone,” to which I responded, “Almost everyone.”

The rich and powerful, as our great writers Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald make clear in their works, will always do well.  That’s their purpose in life.

Still, it’s important that we on the left not mimic the my-way-or-the-highway approach of our friends on the right.

As Obama said, “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.”

Pragmatism requires we not only take a problem-solving approach to issues but also to political reality.  Compromise is not a dirty word, but it like tangoing, it takes two.

Now if we can only get Republicans to dance.

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