Greatness is a rare quality. Of 44 presidents only a handful have achieved greatness: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, FDR and John Kennedy. The first three had it forced upon them through circumstance, mostly war, while Kennedy achieved greatness by turning an entire country around in just a thousand days and setting the stage for LBJ’s Great Society reforms. The 1960’s were the last real decade of progress in America and we have regressed ever since the Reagan Revolution began turning back the clock. Greatness is an immense responsibility and I believe Barack Obama is possessed of it though he seems unwilling to embrace it. The man has the capability, the qualities, the capacity to be another great, transformative figure in American history but he seems unwilling to embrace it and run forward. His campaign promised greatness and his avid supporters certainly anticipated him being a great president.
Perhaps it is the inexperience of only several years as a Senator and being thrust into the “fierce urgency of now” or perhaps it is simply the weight of the office and dealing with new and constant crises and issues daily. Bringing the nation back from the precipice of depression required greatness but then he slid into the mire of a badly managed health care debate. Finding greatness in peacetime (and to most Americans, in spite of two wars this is peacetime) is more difficult than dealing with a revolution, a civil war or a world war. Greatness is normally something men rise to because of circumstances. Today’s circumstances again provide fertile ground for greatness.
We are coming off an era of Republican mismanagement which has resulted in chaos: the rich have gotten richer while the poor have expanded exponentially and the middle class shrunk until our economy cannot take any further debt. I mean consumer debt, trade debt and budget debt. The GOP strategy of starving the federal government with debt has worked because are actually considering dismantling our essential social safety nets Social Security and Medicare. This was the goal of Republicans since the New Deal and the plan began under Reagan with these massive federal deficits.
Barack Obama faces the burden of explaining how these failed policies threaten the nation. He must restore the tax rates on the wealthiest among us to their pre-1980 levels and cut the vastly bloated defense budget rather than the GOP goal of gutting Social Security and Medicare. Difficult decisions demand greatness and today we must have greatness to preserve democracy, restore freedoms and balance our financial condition following recovery from this economic collapse. Much must be done and it will require great leadership. The President cannot sit back and allow Congress to take the lead, we need strong, capable, inspiring leadership. The times demand it just as they have over our storied history.
Some men cannot escape their destiny. I believe the fierce urgency of now which propelled Sen. Obama to seek this leadership mantle requires he step up and provide the great leadership these times demand. Without it the country is rudderless. Steering a course through turbulent waters requires a great captain, a great crew and a plan for navigation. We know where we must go, we have a courageous crew in the American people and we must now find the political will and courage to venture forth on the journey.
Will President Obama step up and embrace the fierce urgency of now? Only if we, the people, demand it of him. We, the people must also remember the words of President Kennedy who reminded us “ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” What can you do? re-engage in the process. Sitting by while those working to stop progress, to stall progress, to enshrine the limits on our rights and freedoms enacted during the previous Administration cannot be tolerated. You worked hard and loyally to bring Sen. Obama into office but that is when the real work began. It did not end on November 4, 2008. You simply cannot sit idly by and allow other forces to undermine what you fought to achieve. Greatness never occurs in a vacuum it has to be attained and it has to be borne by all of us so the weight is shared. I believe Barack Obama has it in him to be a great President but only if we demand it of him. That part is up to you.