Obama describes the first step to America’s renewal

Summary:  Obama’s statement about America may be the simple truth; this may be why so many find it disturbing.

Many Americans prefer that our leaders lie to us, and find moments of candor unseemly — an when Jimmy Carter said that he “lusted in his heart“.  Hence the controversy over this statement:

America is no longer, what it could be, what it once was. And I say to myself, I don’t want that future for my children.
Barack Obama, 6 August 2008 — see the video here.

This is typical of the criticism from conservatives, both misrepresenting what Obama said and disagreeing with it on several levels.

A little girl asks you a question, “Why did you start running for President?”   It’s a 7 year old Senator. Ya tell her because you love the country. You tell her because this is the greatest place on Earth. That we’ve got challenges, but you want to help the country through it.

You don’t tell a 7 year old that her country isn’t what it once was. You do not lie to 7 year olds and tell them that your country sucks. You just don’t do it Senator.  America’s no longer what it could be? What it once was? How the Hell would you know Sir? Your experience has only been in one part of America. Elite, leftist academia.

Rush Limbaugh, 7 August 2008 — see the video here.

Obama is not only correct, I believe,  but addresses the most important question of this time, frequently discussed on this site:  what is the path to American renewal?  His rhetoric about us, about America, points to reflection on our what we have inherited from our parents and what we will pass on to our children.

Policy wonks recoil in horror at this, believing that their long policy papers contain the solutions to America’s problems.  Just as have generations of wonks since the nation project went off the rails when confronted with the twin challenges of the Great Depression and the fascist powers.

In fact, Obama states the matter too charitably.  The starting point for renewal is not just reflection.  Profound contempt is necessary, a nausea with what we have become — esp. by comparison with what we were and should be.  Only from there will effective collective action and political programs become possible.

Hence the two previous posts in this series about America, giving bits of evidence why Limbaugh’s self-satisfaction is undeserved.

We are wolves on the world stage, boldly invading 3rd world nations — but sheep at home, cowering before our government.  Our President begs Saudi Arabia to pump more cheap oil for us.  Our senior officials plead with China to not only rollover our loans (which we cannot pay) but also lend us more so that we can continue to consume more than our national income.

We elect leaders with vast ambitions (foreign wars for McCain, domestic fountains of spending for Obama), but we cannot afford them — and they make few serious attempts to explain how they will be financed.  Instead we have the choice of basking in the reflected glory of McCain’s years as a POW or Obama’s charisma.

I believe that most of us know the dark truth, in one way or another:  America is metastable.  In addition to geopolitical weakness, the result of decades of unsound grand strategy, the economic foundation of the American hegemony has large cracks.   We have a pseudo-equilibrium, vulnerable to a tiny shock initiating a sudden and radical change — with the end result a truly stable condition (such as I described here and here).  America is like a “hanging rock” – a small push can move it to lower but firmer foundation.

Our situation is contemptible because it is unnecessary.  Somewhere along the way we passed a tipping point, after which absurd and even irrational behavior by our governing elites was accepted without outrage.  Massive government borrowing, Ruby Ridge and Waco, the insanity of airport security .. the list goes on and on.  We greet each new indignity or foolishness with shrugs.

We can do better, as we need not accept such things.  When the crunch comes, I believe we will do better.   The longer we wait, the greater the rot, the more extensive the damage, and the more difficult will be our recovery.

The November elections might be the most important of the century.  Get involved.  Donate your time and money.  We might be unable to image what America will look like in 2012.

Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

Other posts in this series about America, how we got here and how we can recover it

  1. Forecast: Death of the American Constitution, 4 July 2006
  2. Diagnosing the Eagle, Chapter III – reclaiming the Constitution, 3 January 2008
  3. A report card for the Republic: are we still capable of self-government?, 3 July 2008
  4. Americans, now a subservient people (listen to the Founders sigh in disappointment), 20 July 2008
  5. de Tocqueville warns us not to become weak and servile, 21 July 2008
  6. A soft despotism for America?, 22 July 2008
  7. Obama describes the first step to America’s renewal, 8 August 2008
  8. Let’s look at America in the mirror, the first step to reform, 14 August 2008
  9. Fixing America: elections, revolt, or passivity?, 16 August 2008
  10. Fixing American: taking responsibility is the first step, 17 August 2008
  11. Fixing America: solutions — elections, revolt, passivity, 18 August 2008
  12. The intelligentsia takes easy steps to abandoning America, 19 August 2008

For all posts on this subject see America – how can we reform it?.

20 thoughts on “Obama describes the first step to America’s renewal

  1. “Donate your time and money.” May I ask, but to who or what? As you have pointed out neither major candidate is willing or able to see the fact that we cannot continue our financial idiocy. The only party which would likely reduce our spending, extract our country from two failing wars and not eat away at the constitution even more are the libertarians, but sadly they have almost no chance of winning any election at this point in time. So it seems that we are stuck with Obama and McCain unless things really go pear shaped…
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I have two suggestions (no answers). (1) Pick the lesser evil. The difference between bad and worse is historically more important than that between good and better. (2) Shift your focus to Senate and House. State races. Local. You can have more impact, both in the election and perhaps on your community. For example, local sheriffs and DA’s are very important people.

  2. “It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”
    Il Principe, N. Machiavelli

    In its Italian original, anyone?
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    Fabius Maximus replies: A powerful and relevant quote, from one of the leaders of the greatest and perhaps most successful political project the world has ever seen: the creation of the modern liberal government, based on consent of the governed to protect our natural rights.

    I referred to Thomas Barnett as “a cold-blooded Machiavellian strategist.” This was, I suspect, the highest complement he has ever received for his professional work. I have never received a thank-you note, however. Probably reflecting the low opinion of Machiavelli held by Americans, absurd considering his role in creation of our society.

  3. FM,

    “Just because you know the name of something doesn’t mean you know something. ” : Richard Feynman

    Ignorance is somethin’ all too common…

  4. I will propose, for the sake of argument, that Fabius’ suggestion that we just vote in the next election is hollow. Merely voting is about as meaningful as choosing which tv channel to watch. Or, as a friend says, it has the same effect on the outcome of the game as rooting for your home team.

    Elections are a sham and a distraction in our current system. Both major parties agree on the essentials of foreign and national economic policy. No one gets to run for national office without being vetted by the party elders, and indebted to the corporate interests which finance his campaign. A US Senator like Feingold is a miracle in the US Congress.

    My favorite blog, after Fabius’, is Stop Me Before I Vote Again, a site “devoted to the deconstruction of the Democratic party.” I hope there’s a similar one on the Rebublican side.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Voting is just the beginning of citizenship, not the entirety of it. As I have said many times: Vote. Get involved. Donate your time and money. Write. Talk to friends and strangers (e.g., walk precincts).

    How wonderful a world it would be if progress could be achieved by sitting on our couch while complaining about America and deciding if any of the candidates were worthy of exerting ourself to vote.

    While widespread adoption of this attitude would mean rapid collapse of the Republic, it would be good preparation for life in the new regime. Each of could choose a viewpoint suitable for a subject: irony, detachment, or resignation. For those interested in philosophy or religion, there were the traditional choices of a Roman aristocrat under the Empire: Stoicism, Epicureanism, Hedonism, and Christianity.

  5. First of all, Rush is an elitist to end all elitists. He doesn’t know anything about America and has only a passing understanding of the truth. The renewal starts at home and then your neighbor and then the next as we rebuild America house by house and block by block.

    If a candidate wants your vote then they need to pledge to dismantle government and stop the reign of terror by law enforcement and the judicial system.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: What does is mean that Rush is an “elitist”? How do you this that he is one, and that Obama is not? My any usual meaning of the word, so were many great people in American history.

  6. Rush is the worst kind of elitist who pretends to be one of the little people while using his power and wealth to destroy not renew. Nothing Obama or any Democrat could ever say would meet his approval. An elitist is someone who is the best of, or most knowledgeable or superior in some way. We need elitists for leadership in all areas of society but politics is one area where there are few elite. Obama is not an elitist and the false claims of Rush and his Nation are simply a smokescreen to keep the baa baa baa happy in the Bitter Hinterlands.

    Don’t mistake us for supporting either McCain or Obama, neither is qualified to be the next president. Don’t think that we support the howling from the left either. This country’s elites from academia, the media, government, judiciary, religion and business have been waging war on freedom and on the Republic before the ink even dried on the Constitution.

    No one in power currently deserves our support. No one.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I am not familiar with Rush’s show, but I suspect a comparison of his audience with Obama’s core non-balck supporters would suggest that Obama is the elitist — not Rush.

    From my limitied knowledge of Rush, runs a daily radio version of one of the longest western art forms: the morality play. If he was broadcasting during the Middle Ages, every show would end with a Democratic thrown through the mouth of hell (see this about mystery plays).

    This is the art of the people, not the elites. Marxists attribute “purpose” to all social phenomena, in keeping with their economic determinism and view of History as a god-like entity. But some things are driven by the needs, fears, and aspirations of the masses.

  7. You are absolutely correct. I myself remember that from as far back as I can remember it was ingrained into my brain that America is the best country in the world and no one could ever take that from us. The saddest part about that? We took it from ourselves. Just like this administration and most likely whichever is to follow, whether it be McCain or Obama, we Americans refuse to hold ourselves also accountable for the state our wonderful country is in today. America has become like unpolished silver that has sat in a drawer for decades just waiting for someone to take the time and the care to refurbish it’s original luster. I don’t believe either of these candidates can do it.

    McCain would rather just steal someone else’s silver. And Obama wants to just buy new silver.

  8. The problem is that the nation has turned self centered. Unable to make decisions beyond themselves they cannot see the benefit of doing bigger things. Sacrifice, discipline are alien and painful concepts to many Americans maybe even to a small majority. I am not talking about taxes or war, I am talking about their day to day lives.

    Kiplings “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” describes the slide and end result. Until the majority of people put there personel houses in order and vote accordingly the next step will some form despotism. I am at this point not very confident of the outcome.

    But at least it’s Friday!

  9. Fabius: “Donate your time and money. Write. Talk to friends and strangers (e.g., walk precincts)”

    I agree with this expanded version of “get involved”. But it is only the beginning. As other comments above point out, what is the point of getting involved (in the presidential election, at least) if there is no difference between the candidates on the issues that are most important to us — those of war and the public good?

    Fabius believes that this vast apparatus of state power — the Pentagon, Congress, the tax and trade laws, the regulatory agencies, the lobbyists — now almost entirely in the grip of special interests, large corporations like Lockheed Martin and the oil majors, and financial institutions like Goldman Sachs — is still somehow amenable to pressure by public opinion. This is a dangerous delusion whic ignores the fact the Congress people are now little more than sales-people to their constituents of policies written by financial supporters.

    Fabius believes we have reached this point because of a failure of civic responsibility in the people; I believe it’s because powerful individuals and groups, over time, have seized the levers of power in the state. They won’t give it up without a fight. Our first step is to identify who those powerful interests are and adopt strategies to stop them.
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    Fabuis Maximus replies:

    “Fabius believes that this vast apparatus of state power … is still somehow amenable to pressure by public opinion.”

    Yes, I do. And this is beyond any factual debate on operational considerations. If false the alternatives are severe actions, from massive nonviolent protests to outright armed revolt. These are so extreme that they cannot be attempted until we have first tried the conventional methods I describe.

    “we have reached this point because of a failure of civic responsibility in the people;”

    Yes, but that is just a guess. But no matter how we got here — our fault, their fault, God’s fault — it is our responsibility to fix the problem. At any cost. That is the burden of citizenship.

  10. The short answer:

    Dems and elites who equate imperfections in America with evil, do seem to have the opinion that the country sucks. Certainly they think that Bush sucks, and most Reps suck. And that supporting victory in Iraq sucks.

    Which is why I think that these type of Dems suck, and that Obama sucks.

    And even the earth (there is no gravity…).

    But it’s the voters, who too often choose consumerism today rather than saving/ investment, that really suck. But the media, who happily demonize those who discuss responsibility, also suck big time.

    What America once was: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” JFK

    Today, Dems are not only unwilling to pay any price, the only price for anything they are willing to pay is … higher taxes (on the rich). The only burden they bear is … higher taxes on the successful, to help the unsuccessful ‘victims’. Whether the victims caused it themselves or not.

    My longer answer maybe later — it’s a huge subject, especially if it includes even a quick walk down memory lane.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Whatever the cause — and determining the cause must IMO precede treatment — what is your recommendation?

  11. Reading this makes me want to buy a cabin in middle of Montana, plenty of firearms, and buy about a dozen survivalist how-to books. Pretty disheartening.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Citizenship — self-government — is not easy. It goes only to those people willing to bear its burdens, to fight for it as necessary. Is this no longer taught in grade school?

  12. I personally am not a particularly politically-minded person; politics are simply not my arena of expertise although I try to stay reasonably well-informed. However, when I read the quote by Rush Limbaugh cited here, I notice something quite sickening: complacency. And whether one is describing politics, the arts, a family, a school system, science — practically anything — complacency leads to stagnation, decrepitude, and rotting from the inside.

    Unfortunately, complacency has become the attitude-of-the-month (or rather, the era) for America. What is the way out? I certainly don’t have the answer to that question. But one thing is sure: toting blind patriotism and motherland-loyalty will not move us forward, but rather drag us into a black hole of obsoletism and backwardness.

  13. “makes me want to buy a cabin in middle of Montana…”
    “Citizenship — self-government — is not easy. It goes only to those people willing to bear its burdens, to fight for it as necessary.”

    Of course, the Unabomber argued that he was fighting on behalf of the loftiest ideals of freedom. And he *had* a cabin in Montana. He created a tiny outpost of human survivability with subsistence farming while he fought. He was, in short, every bit as tough as a Viet Cong. So being willing to bear any burden, make any sacrifice, does not guarantee that you will be remembered as a good guy by the majority, or even by history.

    For that matter, are the Viet Cong now remembered as good guys or bad guys? To me, it seems more realistic to say *all* humans are essentially evil, and there are just little warlords and big warlords. Recall St. Augustine’s comment on the pirate who asserted moral equivalence with Alexander of Macedon.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I am unsure what you are saying. Perhaps that the struggle (the means used) does not valid the end? If so, I agree. And the signfiicance of this?

  14. “Somewhere along the way we passed a tipping point, after which absurd and even irrational behavior by our governing elites was accepted without outrage.”

    I think the War on Drugs was the beginning of the end of civil liberties. At some point the War on Drugs became more important than the Constitution. You can say it was Nixon in 1971, but I think it was Reagan in the 1980s, with the major propaganda push.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: More generally, I think it was the government’s increasing fixation on war as paradigm of its service or operation. WWI and WWII were formative, of course. But also the war on communism, with moments of high intensity in the 1920’s (the Palmer Raids) and 1950’s (McCarthy and the witch hunts). And the war on drugs, as you note, with its long slow peaks and valleys of Nazi-like enforement and propaganda (i.e., the 1936 film Reefer Madness).

    It has been a long road to our current plight. There is no quick fix.

  15. “Limbaugh’s self-satisfaction is undeserved”

    I am no leftist. I am a right of center moderate. But I consider extreme right loons like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter to be just as dnagerous as extreme left loons like Al Franken and Ariana Huffington. Also, I am glad to see Obama moving himself from the left to the center. I hope this shift is genuine and not just a cynical act to get elected.

  16. Oh, come on. Surely you don’t want to miss this LAST election. I heard that some of the new voting machines payback as much as 93%, and may even be linked to a progressive jackpot.

  17. Fabius Maximus replies: Citizenship — self-government — is not easy. It goes only to those people willing to bear its burdens, to fight for it as necessary. Is this no longer taught in grade school?

    I’ve got kids in one of the top 50 school districts in the country and both report that the rights and responsibilities of citizenship are not taught in either grade school or middle school. We will see if high school is any different.

  18. Pluto (#17): You are correct, today’s youth are not taught the rights and responsibilities of citizenship – but there is more. The lack of good civics instruction goes back decades, at least into the 1970s. I did most of my public school K-12 education in the 1970s, and cannot ever recall taking a civics class in which we read the Constitution, the Declaration of Indepedence, or the Federalist Papers, nor, for that matter, other foundational sources such as the Magna Carta, the Bible, the Torah, and others.

    To the extent that I know anything of these documents and the historical figures who wrote them, it is because of self-study, not formal schooling. If my experience is in any way typical, and I am afraid it is, it can have only negative consequences to the future of the republic. We are, as Michael Crichton wrote of historical ignorance, “leaves that do not know we are part of a tree.”

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