by Ron Kenner
Baldwin Hills, Calif.
December 23, 2012
Part VII: FIRST, TO KNOW; THEN, TO DO
BALDWIN HILLS, Calif., Dec. 23, 2012 -- In the overall mechanics of transformative government, attitude is so important! Not just a simplistic "can do" confidence but the simple belief that government might - holy cow! - actually solve or take the lead in solving or confronting a major problem.
Many GOP leaders or presidential candidates boasted during the primary campaign about how, on being elected, they would eliminate government departments left and right. One claimed that he would eliminate so many departments that he couldn't remember the last one: the Environmental Protection Agency.
And as he listed the government departments (with thousands of federal jobs), he kept pointing with his finger, ticking the departments off one by one, until, when he came to the third, EPA - which he couldn't remember - he seemed to be aiming his finger so as to shoot himself in the head. Who amidst us oldies would ever have guessed that the entertainment would surpass Watergate?
With such an anti-government attitude, it's hard to believe that these candidates, or the once "severely conservative" final GOP flag bearer, former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, could ever become a transformative president? Could ever spearhead for the nation the likes of an Interstate Highway system (despite all the jobs you get to pass out) or a Hoover Dam, massive waterworks projects or a great museum, even the way the old big-city "bosses" did? But building cities, providing jobs, thinking big - those are among the key ingredients, of transformative government.
In modern times, even former President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama would give partial obeisance to the business-oriented, GOP mindset that government, if not the problem, is hardly the solution.
President Obama campaigned on the idea of leading the country forward to a new day for justice, equality, jobs, campaign reform and the like. Surely Obama's more recent actions in helping bail out auto manufacturers in Detroit helped significantly in providing thousands of jobs, and no doubt played a major role in his re-election, along with candidate Romney's secretly recorded "47%" remark, and Hurricane Sandy. Hurricane Sandy, under Obama's leadership, was unquestionably handled far better than Hurricane Katrina was under the Administration of anti-government President George W. Bush.
As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman put it succinctly in a Nov. 5 column, "Sandy Versus Katrina:"
.For the response to Sandy, like the success of the auto bailout, is a demonstration that Mr. Obama's philosophy of government - which holds that the government can and should provide crucial aid in times of crisis - works. And conversely, the contrast between Sandy and Katrina demonstrates that leaders who hold government in contempt cannot provide that aid when it is needed.
You'd think that for all the praying that takes place on the right, especially on the evangelical far right, God might have held off Hurricane Sandy until after the election. So maybe the anti-government attitude of a "severely conservative" Republican does make a difference. That's another reason why Mr. Obama, as opposed to Romney, was an easy choice for many of us, even if many on the left, too, have reservations about the centrist Obama Administration of his first term.
Among other concerns, for months, maybe for fear of alienating a certain segment of voters, President Obama clearly placed more emphasis in his rhetoric and actions on the deficit and bank bailouts than on creating jobs; in fact, he (and his Administration) barely mentioned jobs, and he often seemed to be responding more to the agenda of the Republican leadership than focused on following his own agenda.
This time around, if the President really wants to provide a transformative government - that is, to give us real change, the kind needed to turn the country around - he'll not only have to think big but to do so with his own agenda.
And he'll have to gain, one suspects, a more passionate mindset about the value of investing significant sums of money in the nation, perhaps the way Roosevelt did during the New Deal, which helped (along with the World War II industrial ramp-up) to put millions back to work.
Curiously, during the economic doldrums of recent years, big business, even those afloat with cash have been notoriously slow to reinvest in the economy. Whether in the private sector and jobs, or in supporting large government projects beyond bailouts, such as high-speed rail, rebuilding highways, bridges and roads, upgrading education, generating new green industry. Many Business executives and CEOs seem to understand that any consumer product requires consumers with a demand for it and the ability to pay; yet these same executives, hardly cut out for transformative times, don't understand the workers' need for a fair share of profits to buy things and keep the economy moving. In significant ways, big business - even those who can afford it - has been embarrassingly slow in investing even in itself.
Some 20 years ago, a science professor at the University of Southern California - one being quietly considered then for a Nobel Prize - told me he was basically ashamed of the oil industry, which had barely invested a pittance of its money in exploring alternative energy sources. It hasn't changed much since, So it goes.
We don't know yet how it will go. Yet it seems safe to say that big ideas and bold action - that's transformation! We can't solve our real problems simply by huddling in a corner and balancing the budget with tax cuts. You'd think more of our world leaders and pundits would have learned better after watching Preisident George W. Bush become the first in American history to conduct two simultaneous wars while cutting taxes.
Since the public figured that much out in the latest election, President Obama would do well to reach across the aisle and seek consensus - but not, this time, with an "ostrich" agenda. As FDR and other major transformative figures before him did, President Obama needs to think big to respond adequately to our serious problems. That way he has a chance of being a transformative president. Otherwise, the second Administration will be only one small step for Mr. Obama. Next: Part VII: First, to Know, Then to Do
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.