February 2009 Editorial Winner

Cool but Fuzzy
By Wayne Trotter, The Countywide & Sun (Tecumseh)

President Obama unquestionably is one of the greatest speakers of all time and he showed it again Tuesday night. He was so eloquent, so relaxed, so comfortable, so cool in his appropriately majestic setting that it was hard not to immediately concur with every single thought. Most of all, after a fortnight of crisis talk he turned Reaganesque or Rooseveltian in his optimism. Many in this shaken nation wanted and needed that. Count us among those.

But when you begin to study what Mr. Obama said as opposed to how he said it, probable contradictions begin to emerge. He hinted at trillions upon trillions in potential new federal spending, but he’s going to cut the deficit in half and not burden rising generations with debts they can’t handle. He’s going to federalize health care while simultaneously curing cancer. He gets it about bankers and doesn’t like what they are doing, but he’s about to give them a lot more money. His housing program is going to rescue the responsible without rewarding chancy behavior. He will increase the number of soldiers and Marines while cutting the defense budget. The list rolls on.

Some of those things are important and some aren’t. It really doesn’t matter that Americans didn’t invent the automobile and even most hard-boiled conservatives agree it will take a lot of federal intervention and money to temper this recession. Something needs to be done about health care, but is the federal government the best answer? The devil in all these things will be in the details but in the case of the stimulus bill, details were in short supply until after the deal was done. Will that be a pattern or was it just a strategy to meet what the new president and millions of others regarded as a real emergency?

Where will the money come from? The president offered up the usual suspects for budgetary restraint but pledged to raise taxes only on the very rich, the top two percent of all Americans. Don’t be surprised if the giant sucking sound you hear next comes from the rush of much-needed capital to the Cayman Islands or other financial havens.

But make no mistake about this: President Obama is moving fast now because his chances of success are best now. He knows his history. Like Lyndon Johnson after the Kennedy assassination and the 1964 election, he commands the congressional majorities he needs. Unless the Democrats fall to squabbling among themselves (and they may if and when specific budget cuts actually are proposed), this president is likely to get most everything he asks for over at least the next two years. As the loyal opposition, the best the weakened Republicans can do is blunt some initiatives around the edges and they can do that only if they stick together in the Senate, something all of them weren’t willing to do on the stimulus bill.

Overall, Mr. Obama set the right tone Tuesday night. “We will rebuild, we will recover and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.” This is a great challenge and Americans have always dealt with those. Mr. Obama is in charge now but if his ideas don’t work perfectly, Americans will turn to something and perhaps someone else. That is the greatest strength of this greatest system.

As a student of history, President Obama knows that as well and it is probably why he concluded his speech with this point of accommodation:

“I know that we haven’t agreed on every issue thus far, and there are surely times in the future when we will part ways. But I also know that every American who is sitting here tonight loves this country and wants it to succeed. That must be the starting point for every debate we have in the coming months and where we return after those debates are done. That is the foundation on which the American people expect us to build common ground.”

Amen, Mr. President. Amen.