Saturday, November 10, 2012

Post #370 - A Letter to the President

 Mr. President,

I'll avoid asking the obvious question: why would any sane person want to take on your job? -- you apparently wished to continue in it, and now you must. Instead, I'll express my congratulations on a successful end to a difficult, protracted (and terribly expensive) campaign, and assure you that you will be in my prayers, and the prayers of many. The morning after your reelection, the front page of a Canadian paper read "Hope Hangs On" -- despite some sobering realities, we hang on.

Conventional wisdom seems to be that the election changed very little -- you're still there, and the numbership of the House and Senate did not shift that radically. But, the country our congress represents is surely changing and those changes will be felt in Washington. The first Muslim-American legislator was sent back for a fourth term. The first openly-Lesbian woman was elected to the Senate from Wisconsin. The first Hindu, from your home state of Hawaii, was elected with nearly 81% of the vote (the fact that she is also the first female combat veteran to serve in the Congress reminds us that we are still at war abroad). Hispanics flexed their muscles at the polls; they gave you 70% of their votes. Despite your difficulties with Mr. Netanyahu, 70% of American Jews also helped vote you back into office.

More than that -- the world around us is rapidly changing: Europe is struggling. Now we have a Middle East where autocrats no longer run all the countries. Hot spots are cropping up faster than we can build drones to dowse them.

Of course, interpretations and analyses of the campaign, the election and the future are as thick as crown vetch beside a freeway. Everyone is telling you what it all means and what you must do next. Status quo it may be in many ways, but new opportunities will also knock at the oval office door. As Rabindranath said, "The winds of grace are always blowing, but it is you that must raise your sails." Historian Richard Norton Smith counsels that, in order to beat the "second term curse" you must avoid falling into hubris and cultivate humility. NY Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman said that the message from the American people was, "We think you're trying. Now try even harder." -- that sounds about right to me. But how, exactly, should you try harder? I offer my own suggestions, since everyone else seems to be doing so:

Mr. President, try harder on the "reaching across the aisle" business. Congress has abysmal popularity ratings because they can't seem to agree on even "the proper temperature for ale," much less how to legislate in support of the common good. You need to be the adult in the room; let many take credit, as long as a deal can be struck and disaster averted. We will thank you, and history will thank you.

Try harder on cultivating new ways to supply energy. Mexico has pledged to reach 35% of its energy from alternative sources by 2025. Most of our allies have gone further in developing wind, geothermal and solar than we have. We can pump oil and expand natural gas till the cows come home, but we know that the best-fracked wells and the cleanest of clean coal technology are not going to be the long-term answer, since all this stuff is in finite supply and takes a long time to create. We have to act as though we are going to be around for a while as a race, and maybe we'll make it come true.

Try harder on solving the Middle East conundrum. Passionate people will tell you to embrace and alleviate the plight of the Palestinians, and you should. Equally passionate people will tell you to have Israel's back as its only ally and the only democracy in the region, and I'm sure you will not fail to do that. A peacemaker, though, will go deeper than either of these themes would take him. Recognizing the unconscionable cost of continuing conflict in Israel/Palestine, you should not hesitate to break the mold, think outside the box, change the game. Insist that both Palestinians and Jews must have a homeland to call their own, acknowledged by international consensus and guaranteed by international law, and make it happen. (It won't be easy, but then you aren't worried about reelection now -- take some risks -- you have little to lose and the gratitude of the whole world to win.)

Try harder to reach out to Iran. Common sense says that along with Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt it ought to be a major player in the region. The Iranian people still (God knows why) are a reservoir of positive regard for the American people, despite fifty years of sniping between our governments. Half the population of that country is under the age of twenty-five and is plugged in to the rest of the world, even if their leaders are not. Ratchet down the rhetoric, do some robust visioning about a win-win-win future and start talking turkey. Make the acquisition of nuclear weapons a choice that Iranians can feel comfortable rejecting, because they can get a better deal. Recent signals from Iran indicate that the time may be right and the stars aligning.

Try harder on the abortion question. Virtually all Americans do not want to see any more abortions than necessary -- they simply disagree on what is necessary. Can't we take immediate steps, at the very least, to do what the vast majority can agree upon? Provide contraception to those who wish to use it. Provide pre-natal and post-natal care for any mother who can't afford it. Help the private sector to modernize our adoption system, so that greed and human trafficking have no place in the equation. When there are willing and capable prospective parents and there are needy and neglected infants, why can't they be connected, in this age of on-line everything?

Try harder on immigration reform. We have built a country out of immigrants. "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore" -- those lines were written in 1883, but they ring truer now than ever before. Lift your hands to "the golden door," Mr. President, and start polishing. Secure we must be, but we don't want our national epitaph to read, "all relief lay in this room, but now, alas, it's turned a tomb." Rather, let your second term be the time when America had a "new birth of freedom" like the one Lincoln envisioned. Our exceptionalism does not lie in how much better we are than the rest of the world, but in how hard we strive to be better than we are.

Finally, try even harder on addressing the discrepancy of wealth and advantage that has grown in our country over the past few decades.  Some on the right do not seem to view this as a problem, but I have seen life in Johannesburg, where the majority are still living in squalor and the elite are barricaded behind their security fences; in New Delhi, where some folks live rough on a sidewalk for generations, while others inhabit posh digs that recall the princely states of yore; Manila, where floods regularly sweep away thousands of homes less than a mile from high-rise hotels with ballrooms full of fat-cats; and Rio, where the favelas stink and crumble as the rich loll on beachside terraces.  One doesn't have to accept the idea that "everything I have that I don't really need is a theft from the poor" to see that this is not the most efficient, vital and sustainable state of affairs for any society.  It is our fairness, our future-orientation and our fluidity of financial circumstance that has made us different from such places.  May that continue to be so.

May Almighty God bless you and keep you,

Alex Patico, a citizen

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