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President Obama is planning on delivering a speech to public school students. As the Department of Education website notes

During this special address, the president will speak directly to the nation’s children and youth about persisting and succeeding in school. The president will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning.

A very commendable message indeed…except that some on the right have labeled it as an attempt to promote socialist ideals. In their report, Some Parents Oppose Obama School Speech, the New York Times quotes a parent in Pearland, TX

“The thing that concerned me most about it was it seemed like a direct channel from the president of the United States into the classroom, to my child,” said Brett Curtiss, an engineer from Pearland, Tex., who said he would keep his three children home.

“I don’t want our schools turned over to some socialist movement.”

(McKinley, James, Some Parents Oppose Obama School Speech, The New York Times, September 3, 2009)

Conservative talk shows and Conservative politicians like Oklahoma State Senator Steve Russell are all ablaze claiming that Obama is trying to create a cult of personality around himself in a similar manner to Kim Jung-il of North Korea and Saddam Hussein of Iraq. The Republican party chair of Florida even claimed that the speech is politically motivated and he “was appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama’s socialist ideology” (McKinley, James, Some Parents Oppose Obama School Speech, The New York Times, September 3, 2009).

What has happened to the Republican part of Ronald Reagan? Where has political discourse gone in the past 25 years? The fault is not just the Republicans — the Democrats are also very much to blame for the erosion of thoughtful, meaningful political discourse in today’s society. But the level to which these two sides will stoop appalls me. When I was a child we all listened to a speech given by the President of the United States. The man elected President was President of ALL Americans — not just liberals or conservatives — not just Republicans or Democrats — ALL Americans.

It is one thing to speak up in dissent of governmental policy or action (or inaction) – some consider that to be a form of patriotism (although the actual phrase is inaccurately attributed to Thomas Jefferson) and it is definitely free speech. But the politicization of even the simplest speech by the leader of our country and inaccurately portraying it as an attempt to promote a “socialist” or “liberal” agenda is shameful. Left wing pundits did it during the Bush administration and now the right wing pundits are doing their part during the Obama administration.

What has happened to civil discourse in this country? We need to find it again…or we, as a country, are lost and may well be doomed to repeat the Civil War some day.

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It’s a great day for this country. We witnessed history today as Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States. I can only hope that he governs well, works to bring all Americans together and bring prosperity back to this country. I wish him well as he takes on this burden. God bless President Obama and God bless the United States of America.

In his opinion piece in today’s New York Times, “Time for (Self) Shock Therapy“, Tom Friedman argues that when President-elect Obama takes office he should gather the heads of the top 300 banks in the U.S. and set out a course of action of “shock therapy.” The President-elect should tell the bankers that the economic mess began with them and their lax lending standards and is prolonged by them by the fact that they are now unwilling to lend at all. He envisions the new President telling the bankers

Those of you who are insolvent, we will nationalize and shut down. We will auction off your viable assets and will hold the toxic ones in a government reconstruction fund and sell them later when the market rebounds. Those of you who are weak will be merged. And those of you who are strong will receive added capital for your balance sheets, after you write down all your remaining toxic waste. I am not going to continue rewarding the losers and dimwits amongst you with handouts.

(Friedman, Thomas, “”Time for (Self) Shock Therapy“, The New York Times, January 18th 2009)

I agree with Tom on this matter, but I would argue that the “shock therapy” should extend beyond just the banks but out to American businesses in general. Consider that Circuit City just announced that because it could not restructure its debt and because it failed to find a buyer for the company that it was forced to completely liquidate all of its remaining stores and go down the Chapter 7 bankruptcy path. Add another 34,000 jobs lost. Two out of three of the major American automobile manufacturers, GM and Chrysler, have secured $17.4 billion in loans from the federal government to help them through 2009 (“Feds give GM, Chrysler $17.4B bailout“, The Detroit News, December 26, 2008 ). Retail sales fell 2.8% during this past holiday season according to the National Retail Federation (“Store sales fell 2.8% during the holiday, National Retail Federation says“, InternetRetailer.com, January 14th 2009).

This is not just about banks (although they certainly do provide much of the impetus for the current economic trouble). It’s also about a failure of American business to be competitive in a global landscape (in the case of GM and Chrysler — and to a lesser extent Ford) as well as the belief that we can continue to spend and spend as though tomorrow will never come and the bill will be due. As Americans we must refocus our perspective. We cannot continue to live with the idea that we should buy just for the sake of buying. As Anna Quindlen noted in her Newsweek piece “Why Stuff Is Not Salvation”

“I looked into my closet the other day and thought, why did I buy all this stuff?” one friend said recently. A person in the United States replaces a cell phone every 16 months, not because the cell phone is old, but because it is oldish. My mother used to complain that the Christmas toys were grubby and forgotten by Easter. (I didn’t even really like dolls, especially dolls who introduced themselves to you over and over again when you pulled the ring in their necks.) Now much of the country is made up of people with the acquisition habits of a 7-year-old, desire untethered from need, or the ability to pay. The result is a booming business in those free-standing storage facilities, where junk goes to linger in a persistent vegetative state, somewhere between eBay and the dump.

(Quindlen, Anna, “Why Stuff Is Not Salvation“, Newsweek, December 13, 2008 )

Americans must re-learn how to save money, to invest wisely (no more of these “get-rich-quick” schemes), how to make thoughtful decisions (fortunately, we will soon have a President who appears to be thoughtful in his decision making) and how to lead once more. This will not be an easy transition and it will require some tough choices, but we as Americans can do it but more importantly, we must do it.

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