As the election approaches, it seems more and more likely that Barack Obama will become the 44th president of the United States.
He will assume the office during a time of social and economic upheaval that has few parallels in American history. While the nation is not in grave peril, its future depends, more than at any time since 1932, upon wise, thoughtful and courageous leadership.
Can Obama provide such leadership? And, more to the point, what will he do?
If Obama is indeed chosen to lead by his fellow Americans, their collective decision will not have been based upon his policies. It will have been based upon fear and hope — fear of an unknown future and hope that Obama is capable of dealing with those unknown perils.
What we have seen during the last few weeks has been a “Black Swan” — an unpredictable event that reshapes reality.
The virtual destruction of much of the world financial system has altered our economy, the world economy and our position in the world. Change is the only certainty — and that change will carry a price.
An Obama administration will inherit a budget deficit close to $1 trillion, an economy in recession and two apparently endless wars. It will be his task to restore some measure of fiscal discipline to the government, unwind both wars in the least unsatisfactory way possible and revive a moribund economy.
So what will he do? Will he simply follow the liberal script and ramp up spending on programs that Democrats have tried to implement for the last 20 years? Will he use his energy and political capital upon government-funded health care, higher taxes upon the “rich” and tighter regulation of the securities/banking industry? Or will he, like Franklin Roosevelt, move the country in wholly unexpected ways?
Unlike any president since Ronald Reagan, Obama will take office unencumbered by the dead weight of special interests. Traditional democratic-leaning groups supported him, but he owes them little. His strength comes from the millions of small donors who largely financed his campaign and from the hundreds of thousands of (mostly young) people who served as foot soldiers for a movement unprecedented in American politics.
Like Roosevelt, he’s not wedded to any particular set of policies or to any particular group of advisers. Unlike his immediate predecessor, he sees the world in shades of gray, fluid and changeable.
Obama will need to reduce federal spending — and there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit at the Pentagon. Vast, poorly monitored procurement programs and legacy weapons systems of little value in today’s asymmetric battlefields have crippled our military. Granted, Iraq and Afghanistan would have presented difficult challenges in any case, but more appropriate resource allocation might have aided troops and commanders alike.
An Obama administration would be positioned to implement major changes in military policy. What would they be?
Suppose, post-Iraq, the new administration decides that a reduction in forces in desirable. They wouldn’t just kick thousands of ex-soldiers to the curb, and leave them to fend for themselves. Instead, the administration would craft an expanded G.I. Bill, allowing those who had served their country to attend college/grad school and get paid for doing it. Good for the program’s beneficiaries and good for the country.
But, perhaps, not so good for Colorado Springs. The soldiers who might otherwise be stationed at Fort Carson might instead settle in Ann Arbor, Austin or any of a hundred university towns.
And what are we doing about this looming threat to our economic base? Nothing. We’re just hoping that the troops will arrive and stay.
Our community’s usual response to any threat to Fort Carson has been political — to use our clout in Washington and the Pentagon to preserve the status quo. But in an Obama administration we’ll be fresh out of clout.
That means relying upon ingenuity, intelligence and creativity to drive our economy in a new era. It would mean more community initiatives, more private-public partnerships and more efforts to maintain and improve our infrastructure. It means abandoning our instinctive taxophobia and supporting a new county sales tax (1A) and turning aside the latest Douglas Bruce anti-government initiatives (200 and 201).
And if all that sounds too expensive and difficult, there’s a no-cost alternative. Just elect Hal Bidlack to Congress to represent the Fifth Congressional District, and send dog-fightin’ Doug Lamborn back to the private sector. That’d guarantee us a place at the table.
I know, I know — Bidlack’s a Democrat, and ours is the most conservative congressional district in America.
That’s exactly why we need to embrace the cheerful cynicism of Texas voters, who pay little attention to ideology and party affiliation come Election Day. They voted for Sam Rayburn, for Lyndon Johnson, for Tom Delay and for George Bush — all of whom did a great job … for Texas, anyway.
Texans might have learned such cold and unsentimental behavior from Tom Landry, the legendary coach of the Dallas Cowboys. If you could play the game, you had a job.
If not, you got cut.
John Hazlehurst can be reached at John.Hazlehurst@csbj.com or 227-5861.