by Joe Shea
December 14, 2012
HOW CAN WE STAND WITH OUR GRIEF?
BALDWIN HILLS, Calif., Dec. 9, 2012 -- The election campaign is over and the real world presses on with its many crises. It is indeed a complex world, even if we sometimes appear to be living in an age of simple-mindedness and a new Age of Ignorance. Clearly we need to do a better job of assessing our landscape, from topless bars to topless mountains.
In that fuller context we've never had in presidential politics, a full discussion of race and justice is urgent - just consider the typical salaries and life expectancies of different racial groups in this country.
Many of the same complexities and conditions have persisted for decades, even centuries. Emile Zola's classic 19th Century novel Germinal (as in "germinate") is not only about miners rising up as if to serve as blooms of revolution, but about the plight of "fat cats," too, in a laissez-faire market.
In the novel, this included the poignant story of a compassionate mining company owner who, after various desperate measures, goes out of business, or "goes under" - a good metaphor for a novel about mining; he can't compete with the cheap prices of his competition.
"Ignorance" applies widely, even at higher economic levels. Despite screams about too much government regulation and excessive taxes on the rich, for decades multinational corporations have operated with relative impunity and few controls - another "unmentionable" - even though some have larger profits than dozens of the world's smaller countries combined.
As they mushroomed, the word "multinational" barely made it into the vocabulary of the general public. In the early 1950s, long before the Internet became available to millions, there were five daily metropolitan newspapers in downtown Los Angeles.
Currently, as one explanation for the growing ignorance and misinformation, some half-dozen corporate entities, ranging from Disney to Rupert Murdoch control most newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations in the United States.
Only the Los Angeles Times has survived in Los Angeles proper, while the chain paper LA Daily News covers the San Fernando Valley. Here, as elsewhere, monopolies are back in fashion, yet rarely get a mention.
No wonder millions of Americans at all economic levels have relatively little sense that these underpinnings of a free society are crumbling.
It wouldn't hurt for President Obama to really educate the general public, you'd think. He surely knows what's going on that would bear correction. The election is over and it would be a good idea for our nation - and our politicians - to face up to the real world.
We shouldn't minimize Mr. Obama's significant steps on health care. Just having the courage to run for the presidency and then to seek and succeed in advancing universal healthcare - despite extremely difficult obstructions - deserves great praise.
But credit is less due Obama for half-measures and forgotten or ignored measures that came with the campaign promises, amid a kind of bubble of "Hope and Change."
There's no shortage of difficulties, obstructions and excuses. But just trying a little harder, with a little less fear of upsetting voters, not to overlook the value of educating the public, should count for something.
Many of us still believe Mr. Obama could have done more and now are hoping he will do significantly more in his next Administration.
As an example of pithy language, the first man to walk on the moon became famous for the words, "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Yet American astronaut Neil Alden Armstrong's words on July 20, 1969, difficult to hear in transmission, were transcribed inaccurately as "One small step for man. ... instead of "...one small step for a man." Despite the dropped "a," one might guess Armstrong's meaning from the context. We know what he meant. Yet, technically, the line "...for man," as distinct from "a man," taken by itself, suggests, "one small step for mankind."
Let's hope not! Given today's economy, the space program is subdued now and went largely unmentioned in the 20 campaign debates. But let's hope we'll eventually have another major leap in space and science as we look to explore new vistas beyond our one small orb in the galaxy.
As President Obama starts a new term, we need an expansive vision for our planet, too - something less circumspect and more passionate than we've seen to date despite the hundreds of millions of dollars pumped into election rhetoric.
One sympathizes with President Obama. Considering the full extent of the problems inherited from the Bush Administration, with other problems that have persisted or magnified over the years.
In the presidential campaign, neither candidate came close to addressing the full extent of our problems or of what it will take to make them more tolerable, let alone resolve them.
No one with any sophistication expects the impossible. But now that the election is over, just acknowledging the obvious crises - the economy, health, technology, education, the legal illegalities surrounding invasion of privacy, cultural and criminal violence, the failure of campaign reform, the seriousness of global warming, illegal immigration - would provide a larger vision, a first small step for the man, Mr. Obama, if he has any hope at all of becoming a transformative President.
The full list of crises is awesome, but we're deluding ourselves if we think it will suffice to merely pick away at these things: joblessness, home foreclosures, homelessness, crumbling transportation infrastructure, a middle class workforce ill-trained for tomorrow's jobs, a growing lack of competitiveness in international markets, a fast-aging population and declining younger work force, our annual deficit and mushrooming national debt, the congressional logjam and obstructionism, depletion of resources, extremism, growing inequality, childhood obesity, corruption, injustice, the serious need for meaningful tax reform, better regulation, and the lack of effective oversight.
Let's not forget the needless pollution, environmental degradation, the many political and military crises worldwide, and the growing threat of global warming. My list doesn't even include foreign policy issues and global economic problems. You have to give at least a little credit to any presidential candidate on either side who really wants this job.
To be the transformative President that many of us look to for this day and age, let us hope that Mr. Obama will, though seeking reasonable consensus, not rely too heavily on either small compromised steps for himself or anything less than a good number of large, solid ideas and bold actions, if not giant leaps, for mankind.
We've already had a surfeit of half-measures from both sides of the isle. For the most part, they haven't worked, as with our largely-failed "wars" on drugs, poverty, illiteracy and hunger.
With or without consensus, half-measures rarely meet the challenge and almost never qualify as transformative. Only a handful of individuals throughout history have brought new ideas and transformative change to society.
We think of the Babylonian king, Hammurabi, who introduced his codes of law and justice nearly 4,000 years ago; of Confucius, whose ideas of personal and governmental morality came 2,500 years ago; of jESUS Christ, offering promise for the future and emphasizing some 2,000 years ago a greater appreciation and respect for the poor and defenseless than His time afforded.
Think, too, of Moses, who passed on the Ten Commandments and led the Jews out of slavery in Egypt toward the "Promised Land." Reflect on George Washington, who led us through the War of Independence against Great Britain, enabling the formation of our own nation. Consider Abraham Lincoln who, despite failures and repercussions, led us through the Civil War into a more united United States. Think of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in 1933, whose "New Deal" helped bring our nation out of a devastating Depression and saved capitalism in the process. Recall England's Winston Churchill during World War II, whose steadfast leadership contributed greatly to the Allied victory over the Nazis.
Think of a handful of scientists, social, labor and religious leaders who altered society in truly significant ways. Think of the Marshall Plan with its massive successful aid program abroad - which also helped us sell our surplus products - or the GI Bill at home, which helped train millions of tax payers for better-paying jobs - and the major positive difference that these transformations made.
In the long run, at least, not all investments are too expensive; and how much would it cost if President Obama fails to make a greater investment in our nation?
Next: Part V: A Call for Faith - In This World!
AR Correspondent Ron Kenner, a former reporter for the Los Angeles Times, has edited about 100 published books, including more than a dozen gold medal/first place national award-winners in nonfiction, dramatic nonfiction, and fiction. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.