This is our time

To call for sacrifice, the president will have to be willing to make a sacrifice himself.  Obama can offer his own political career. He can put his reelection on the line. He can make the 2012 election a national referendum on doing the right thing.

Evan Thomas, Newsweek, Nov. 13, 2010

George Bernard Shaw suggested that “If all the economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion.”  I prefer the rephrasing (source forgotten) that if you laid all the economists in the world end to end, they’d still point in every direction.  Like me, trying to figure out what to make of the budget compromise in Washington, D.C.

President Obama and the Senate Republican leadership agreed on a two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts, including those for the highest-earning Americans, in exchange for a 13-month extension of unemployment benefits and a temporary reduction in payroll taxes.  Is that good or bad?  Sounds like it’s good for the highest-earning Americans and the people who’ve used up their state unemployment benefits, at least.

Do you go with the argument that Obama is too reasonable for his own good, and that although he gave in on something he wanted in order to get something else he thought was more important right now, he’ll eventually have to say no to his political opponents or he’ll never get what he needs to deliver on his promises?

How about the argument that Obama’s emulating President Clinton by siding with “the people” rather than with one party or against the other, hoping that in two years the people will hate both parties enough to vote for him?

There’s no guarantee Congress will sign off on the deal: do you wonder about the fact that the GOP leadership doesn’t have all its ducks in a row to support this compromise, precisely because it will increase the deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars, especially one leading quacker who supported Tea Party favorites over establishment Republicans in the last election and might have some sway over new members?  Is it at all concerning to you that the White House finds it necessary to “warn” Democrats that not supporting the compromise could revive the recession?

Are you persuaded by the argument that this compromise, in which neither side made a truly painful political concession, means that no one in Washington is really serious about doing anything about the deficit right now?

I’m persuaded by Clarence Page’s conclusion that both sides are putting off the bloody fight until spring, when they’ll have to make a decision on raising the national debt ceiling—nothing focuses the attention quite like impending doom.

Whether the big fight happens then, or sooner or maybe later, I think I’d like to see what Evan Thomas suggested: that Obama take a stand—and yes, stake his presidency—on a call for Americans to make the necessary sacrifices to save ourselves from catastrophe.

…being honest about the real choices is the only way Obama can break through the noise and chatter. It is also absolutely necessary to save the country from very hard times ahead, or at the very least a steadily declining standard of living. Obama needs to start by explaining the mess we’re in.

Presidents have an ability to go to the people and ask us for what we wouldn’t choose to give.  And Americans stand up for their country, and for each other, in the face of a common enemy, whether we voted for the guy in the White House or not.  This could be our time to find out who the real patriots are, if only our leaders are strong enough to ask us to stand up.

I wish I’d written this

“Religious liberty—the freedom to worship as one chooses, or not to worship—is a central element of the American creed.”  And from there “Newsweek” editor Jon Meacham’s column in this week’s issue lays out the argument—straight down the middle—that the separation of church and state is there for the benefit of both:

The civil and legal cases against religious coercion are well known: human freedom extends to one’s conscience, and by abolishing religious tests for office or mandated observances, Americans have successfully created a climate—a free market, if you will—in which religion can take its stand in the culture and in the country without particular help or harm from the government.

There is a religious case against state involvement with matters of faith, too. Long before Thomas Jefferson, Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, called for a "hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world," believing, with the Psalmist, that human beings were not to put their trust in princes. The principalities and powers of a fallen world represented and still represent a corrupting threat to religion: too many rulers have used faith to justify and excuse all manner of evil.

Meacham lines up George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson on the side of the angels in making the case against calling the United States a Christian nation, but a nation where all are free to believe (or not) as they choose.  I know this irks many who see it their duty to evangelize or who misunderstand our history, but that makes it no less true.

Yes, many of the Founders were believing, observant Christians. But to think of them as apostles in knee breeches or as passionate evangelicals is a profound misreading of the past. In many ways their most wondrous legacy was creating the foundations of a culture of religious diversity in which the secular and the religious could live in harmony

As Americans we each have the right to practice a faith of our choosing; why isn’t that good enough?