Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never – in
nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in, except
to convictions of honour and good sense.
To the students at Harrow, 1941
I had breakfast recently with Padres president Tom Garfinkel and former state finance director Steve Peace. Normally the talk is baseball talk, not the state of the universe. But this time baseball was a footnote and the state of our country and world were the objects of our attention.
In the flow of conversation, Garfinkel told us in the time of Christ there were 100-200 million people in the world. He said the number in the early 19th century was one billion and today it is over seven – with more than one billion being added in the past 13-year!
Garfinkel is neither an alarmist nor a fatalist, but said, “This is not sustainable.”
With that as preface let me add I take no pleasure in writing this. I am by luck of DNA an upbeat, positive person; but that natural inclination is tempered by the reality of where I think we are in the USA and that substantive change is problematical.
When Barack. Obama won in 2008 I felt the same excitement and hope others had who voted for him. He wasn’t JFK or Bobby but he was smart and attractive and appeared to see issues with moral clarity.
As with Kennedy in ’60 before Protestant ministers in Houston, when he faced the Catholic question head on and turned it to his advantage, Obama had met in similar fashion the uproar over Jeremiah Wright and used it to win an impressive victory over Mr. McCain.
For the first time in a long time progressives believed Obama’s presidency would be a game changer, when problems affecting the middle class and poor would be addressed and the titans of Wall Street tempered. But that is not what happened.
It began to fall apart for me when the president-elect held a Chicago news conference and announced his economic team, headed by Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers. I was disbelieving Obama would choose two of those responsible for throwing out Glass-Steagall and ushering in what would become under Bush 43 the near collapse of our entire economic system. (Yes, I know it was President Clinton that repealed Glass-Steagall but he did so with the urging of Geithner and Summers.)
I saw Geithner as too tied to Wall Street interests and influence (that hasn’t changed) and Summers, the failed president of Harvard, as a man of huge ego, inclined to dismiss those he considers beneath his intellectual level – meaning the 310 million other Americans.
This was an ominous start for Obama and I was seriously disappointed.
But some of my disappointment was eased by the drama of the Inauguration, the historic importance of which cannot be overstated – a black man at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. This was not the last chapter of Africans shipped from their homeland to America to become slaves to their white masters, as racism remains a deep and dividing issue for our country, but surely in the long and grim history of white/black in the USA a black man elected president is huge.
But in that reality I failed to account for the idiots among us, those who actually believe Barack Obama was not born in America and who out of their profound ignorance and their hate of those who do not look like them gave birth to the “birther” movement. Some of us were so naïve we thought when the White House finally produce the president’s Hawaiian birth certificate that would end it.
Nor had I counted on the biggest idiot of all, Donald Trump, to give the bogus birther campaign another go; and, incredulous as it seems, the birther movement is still with us – and, as much as it pains me to admit, gives validity to H.L. Mencken’s statement, “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.”
Another major Obama mistake, after naming his economic counselors, was health care.
The president-elect wanted Tom Daschle, the Senate’s former majority leader, as secretary of Health and Human Services. He wanted Daschle to lead the effort to finally claim Harry Truman’s promise on health care for all Americans; and the president further intended that Daschle, unlike other cabinet members, would also have an office in the White House.
But that all came apart over a car and chauffeur and questions about tax returns and Daschle was out.
Rather than telling the White House he might have a problem, Daschle went to Senator Max Baucus of Montana and told him of the potential difficulty and Baucus immediately gave the story to the media and that was end of Tom Daschle’s role in the Obama presidency.
The White House believes it could have saved Daschle had he told them first rather than the one man in the U.S. Senate who hates his guts, the former Montana Republican, Max Baucus. With Daschle gone the president compounded his economic team mistake by then turning to, of all people, Baucus, to put together a health care package. That was the beginning of the health care screed of Obama the communist and Obama the socialist by Republicans and right wing extremists that greatly divided an already divided nation.
That anything was salvaged out of this is itself a minor miracle (exceeded only by the greater miracle of Obamacare being ruled Constitutional by the Roberts’ Court).
What was confounding to those of us who care deeply about this president and his presidency and what it means for our country – some policy differences notwithstanding – was his continuing efforts to win over the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill. It wasn’t going to happen. Period!
How do we know? We know because Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s publicly vowed to make Barack Obama a one-term president.
Had any Democrat made a similar threat about a Republican president that Democrat would have been accused of an act of treason, on the sound theory that neither party nor person should put their interests before country. And given the legislative history that’s followed McConnell’s promise, putting party before country is what the GOP has done.
Ezra Klein, the brilliant young reporter for the Washington Post, has documented, not theorized, but documented, the Republican’s consistent opposition to anything and everything Obama, even legislation Republicans once offered on their own but now opposed because the president favors it. You cannot make this stuff up and Klein didn’t, but to what effect?
When you have a political party and a majority of its adherents who refuse to accept any world view that contradicts their own, when facts are not facts but contrivances of liberal media and liberal politicians, all of which arise from hidden socialists beliefs, what can you do to counter it?
The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s statement that “everyone is entitled to their own opinions but no one is entitled to their own facts” has zero resonance with people who believe the opposite; that even if they believe in the inner recesses of their minds that Moynihan is right but refuse for political gain to acknowledge it, what chance is there for some element of political union?
But the president persisted in the illusion he was dealing with rational people and in time could win them over. No, that wasn’t going to happen. Obama had turned the other cheek so many times he’s done an injustice to its meaning in Scripture (Matthew 5:39).
The unhappiness some of us have with the president is about policies not his person. In my case I love the man and love his story, how could you not? The greatest creators of fiction could not have imagined such a story. Submitted for review to America’s leading book publishers, it would have been rejected as implausible.
But it’s real and it happened and it’s our story – America’s story.
Going forward to November the party opposite offers no real alternative. Governor Romney destroyed whatever real chance he had to beat the president by his curious campaign to obtain his party’s presidential nomination. How could anyone who looks so “presidential” have behaved so mindlessly?
Yes, he needed to secure his party’s blessings, a party that been captured by the most regressive forces in our land, all of that I get, but I still want to know, “Governor, is this so important to you that your beliefs and ethics became secondary?”
But to return to where I began with Tom Garfinkel’s sense we are going to a place in the life of our nation and the world where we have never been, and the future it holds is ominous in ways unprecedented for human kind.
I began by purposely quoting Mr. Churchill, the greatest man of the 20th century, for good cause. When he addressed the student at Harrow, England stood alone against the great evil of Hitler and the Axis powers. The USA was not yet in the war, but yet here was Great Britain and its people in conflict against overwhelming might, but a country with a leader and a visionary and a man of principle who dared to challenge the enemy and did so by rousing a people to one of history’s greatest efforts to win the war and to save the west from its certain demise.
The war we face this time is economic and its root cause is the accumulation of wealth by the few at the expense of the many and the terrible divide it has opened in America, but it is solvable.
But for that to happen we need Barack Obama to find his inner Churchill and lead us by a similar declaration as that spoken by the great man at Harrow, “We will never give in. Never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in.”
And we won’t!