Below you will find the first third of Barack Obama’s long list of unfinished business, the matters over which he holds out some hope that he can make a difference in his second term in office.
Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people.
With these words, the President began to address those issues which, in his mind, are obstacles to the just establishment of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as the basic conditions within which each person has the opportunity to prosper in our time. Almost all of the rest of his six-page and eighteen and one-half minute speech were filled with what he called the “unmet challenges” we face on “our journey.”
The Gulf Between the Rich and Everyone Else
For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it. We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class.
For over forty years the fortunes of the middle class in the U.S. have been deteriorating as government regulations and a lack of enforcement of existing labor laws as well as increasingly regressive tax policies in both Republican and Democratic administrations have empowered a shift of U.S. privately held assets from the middle class to a very wealthy few.
Note the graph below. Today, the top 1% of people control 42% of those assets; the next 4% own 30% and most striking: the bottom 80% own only 5% of private assets.
Only a generation ago, this breakdown would have been described as the “third-world conditions” of a backward, authoritarian and oligarchic country. Now this is the situation in which we find ourselves in the U.S. due to public policy. It has been a matter of policy that the very rich should benefit at the expense of everyone else since the late 1970s.
The President understands that this long-term class war has seriously endangered the ability of the U.S. to function as a democratic republic. There should be no surprise the President has put this issue at the top of his list of anti-democratic conditions which must be ended.
So we must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work hard or learn more, reach higher.
Apparently, these are the means and methods by which the President plans to reverse the rapid and accelerating shrinkage of the middle class in the U.S. We will see what he can accomplish, if anything by such means. I am gratified that someone who has shown such unwavering confidence in Wall Street and its barons, shows some understanding of one of our greatest national crises. Something must be done about the yawning chasm between the rich and the rest very, very soon.
Stay Away from Contributory Benefit Programs!
But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.
Amazingly, the party which spent the nation into debt now wants to get us out of hock by shrinking the programs, funded by the people through their taxes, which protect the poor and the middle class when they are old and sick. The President says he will not take away the benefits which older people have been paying into for all of their working lives in order to lift up those who are falling out of the middle class by the hundreds of thousands each year or to shrink the debt.
Now, Mr. President, what about all those who have lost or are in danger of losing their homes? You and your predecessor bailed out the banks; what about the people the banks defrauded and are now continuing to gouge?
We Must Be In This Together
We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us at any time may face a job loss or a sudden illness or a home swept away in a terrible storm.
In a society which has canted its economic systems and structures to favor the rich, and with the near failure of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to allocate resources for the tens of millions of survivors of Hurricane Sandy, the President notes that as individuals, most of us can suffer a sudden and devastating calamity from which we cannot alone restore any semblance of the life we had before. As a society, he said, we truly must once again have each other’s back if we are to survive as a nation. Right now the opposition party and most of his own party shows no clue they understand this.
Initiative Killers or Opportunity Boosters?
The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative. They strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers. They free us to take the risks that make this country great.
Again, it is with remarks like this one that Barack Obama pushed back against what he surely sees as the fictional story-line of the libertarian impulse which has seized hold of the opposition party; the narrative that a safety-net made up of public programs makes us all soft and that a good “forty-seven percent” of us have become lazy “takers,” sucking at the tit of the responsible few remaining “makers.”
The counter-narrative to this nonsense is becoming better understood these days: there are many people who have long been tied down by the golden chain of medical benefits to dead-end jobs because they have preexisting conditions. Because the government has somewhat curtailed the greed of insurance providers such people can finally leave miserable situations and pursue risk-taking ventures without fear of a life-destroying medical event. They are risk-takers who have been freed to soar because the government, which has no profit motive, has their back! Government safety-net programs like these often make life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness possible for risk-takers as well as for the elderly and the poor.
The Greening of a President
We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.
The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But American cannot resist this transition. We must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries. We must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure, our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.
Evidence for the insight that “something has gone wrong with the weather” is building. A growing percentage of people, if somewhat reluctantly, acquiesce if not accept the threats of climate change today. We need better. There is no time. We are desperately in need of a leader who will get out in front in this critical area. All the bell-weather measurements indicate we are well-past the point where mass extinctions and other serious disruptions of global systems are unavoidable if not yet irreversible. We better hope and pray that this President can lead decisively on this issue. If not, none of the rest of the issues we face may matter at all. It is not the earth we need to save. It is the razor-thin balance of conditions on the earth which allow for life as we know it: that is what is at stake. The meek cannot inherit the earth if it has become uninhabitable (Revelation 11:16-18).
As the man said, dear God, it is our responsibility on this earth to secure the gifts you have graciously given, not just for ourselves but for our children and beyond. Grant us, Lord, the wisdom to know who we are, where we live, what our true problems are and what we can successfully, generously and peacefully do about good life in your creation. Help us, Lord, to read your Word in the pages of creation well as in the Scriptures and upon hearing your Word, to do your Word together for your glory and for the sake of our abundant life before your face. In the name of King Jesus we pray. Amen