Letter to Barack #16: A Principle of Principles
Dear President Obama,
The hopes of many hang by the slender threads of the pragmatic and communitarian ideals you express in every speech. In a speech to Wall Street financiers early in your campaign you said that Americans have always viewed the economy not as an end in itself but as designed to serve a higher purpose. From time to time Americans have redesigned the economy to improve its service of its higher purpose. You identified the higher purpose by saying, “We are all in this together.” My favorite line from your Inaugural Address was, “We can choose our better history.” You reminded your listeners that history can be read in many ways. We can choose our identity by choosing what we say we have always been. We can project our chosen identity into the future. In your recent Presidential Address to a joint session of Congress, the line that moved my soul was, “Problems are to be solved.” It was a short phrase that is true by definition. It was an invitation to cooperate. It was an echo of the line, “We are not quitters,” penned by a young correspondent who wrote you a letter. A principle of principles.
“Problems are to be solved.” This principle implies a humanitarian solidarity you have often explicitly asserted. You have often said we are going to solve our problems “above all together.” The problem-solving intention is to solve the problems of Main Street, of the people, in short of everybody. We are going to transform America from the bottom up, not from the top down. To drive home the point that you are talking about transforming civil society, not just about reinventing government, you invited to the Presidential Address as special guests a man from Florida who shared his retirement bonus with his employees, and a young lady from South Carolina committed to improving her school. You praised a town in Kansas where the citizens are working together to green and to uplift their community. You made your point even more dramatically when you spent part of the day before your inauguration painting a DC school together with neighborhood volunteers.
Your repeated emphasis and your clarity were lost on the Governor of Louisiana who gave the Republican reply to your Presidential Address. You spoke of “we.” He spoke in terms of them and us, the former being the government and the latter the people. You were talking pragmatism. Problems are to be solved. If Plan A does not work, we go on to Plan B, and if it does not work either then to Plan C, and so on successively until the problem is solved. For the Governor we do not need successive approximations because we already know the correct answer to almost all questions. The correct answer is less government and lower taxes.
My own views concur with those who believe that at this point in time neither the Republican opposition, nor you as President, nor the Congress, nor the majority of academics, nor the majority of the public, is proposing any feasible and sustainable solution for any of today’s major problems. I concur with those who do not on the whole expect Plan A to work, and who do not expect Plan B or Plan C to work either, even though each succeeding plan will have some desirable features. Perhaps Plan P or Plan R will work. Therefore we want your pragmatism and communitarianism to be durable. If your humanitarian open-mindedness endures through seas of troubles, and continues to find broad support in public opinion, then a combination of rational critique by enlightened minorities and learning from experience by suffering majorities may eventually increase the influence of the paradigm-shifting approaches that really do solve problems.
You said in your Presidential Address that problems are to be solved. Our job is to solve the problems. We will pull together. We will take responsibility for our future. We love our country and want it to succeed. Many hopes hang by the slender threads of your words.
Peace and all good,