The 99% Versus Wall Street: Stephen Lerner on How We Can Mobilize To Be the Greedy 1%’s Worst Nightmare | | AlterNet

It’s the slow time, hopefully a time of rest – but really this time of year is for thinking, and you can hear the wheels turning in all the justice advocacy movements right now. So in this strategy-planning time of year, here’s a great discussion with long-time labor organizer Steven Lerner on some of the actions we can take next year to intensify the pressure for reform.

The 99% Versus Wall Street: Stephen Lerner on How We Can Mobilize To Be the Greedy 1%’s Worst Nightmare | | AlterNet.
Savvy organizer and big thinker Stephen Lerner talks to AlterNet about how to take power back from Wall Street.

Try this:

I don’t think people are mad at somebody who invented a product or founded a company. It’s that people see that Wall Street is not productive. Their wealth and their riches, they do not come through any normal means — they come through cheating and gambling and ripping us off, which I think troubles us in a different kind of way.

and this:

You have a tiny group of people who basically are making decisions that control all of our lives. So it’s a very simple notion: why don’t we bargain with them collectively? [...] If we all refuse to pay at the same time, it would put enormous financial pressure on them.

Find the whole piece here:

The Democrats Have Cheated History

snake-sand2I and millions of other supporters of this Obama moment in history have been puzzling over the strange events of the last few months. We’ve seen health care reform abandoned by a party and president both elected with a clear mandate to pass it.

As I wrote last time, William Greider explained early in the game that Democrats were probably too bought, with too much money, for them to embrace their classical values.

Now Glenn Greenwald takes this to its obvious conclusion, and nails the Democrats – both party and president – as playing a deliberate game of deception.

See if this dynamic introduced by Greenwald resonates with your experience of the last few months:

The primary tactic in this game is Villain Rotation.  They always have a handful of Democratic Senators announce that they will be the ones to deviate this time from the ostensible party position and impede success, but the designated Villain constantly shifts, so the Party itself can claim it supports these measures while an always-changing handful of their members invariably prevent it.
- The Democratic Party’s deceitful game

Greenwald’s analysis is devastating and final. You should read it, and click some links. He cites many commentaries, and several previous of his own. I especially recommend his linked post from December 16 which summarized several months of his analysis of the White House’s own deceitful strategy: White House as helpless victim on healthcare

Greenwald’s analysis explains why we didn’t see a rush of “liberal revenge” with the change in administration. I don’t believe the country really made a sharp turn left, but it seems clear enough to me that the nation as a majority wanted to see some leftish extremism in action for a period of time simply to redress some of the rightish extremism of the previous administration. But it never happened.

I had started to understand that the Democrats will actually be relieved to lose badly in the 2010 elections, so they no longer feel pressured to perform to an agenda they no longer support. But Greenwald’s work now makes it crystal clear to me that this has been the case since the 2008 landslide.


We’ve been gamed. We voted these people into office, trusting them to deliver on one last hopeful throw of the political dice. They’ve thrown away the entire possibility of our ever believing in trustworthy representation again. This fine moment in history that could have shone so brightly is dulled and smeared, ultimately cast away in betrayal, sold for pieces of silver.

And the Democrats seem so insulated in their political compromise that they fail even to understand how badly they themselves are about to be abandoned for their treachery.

Because none of this means that the Republicans are fit to govern this country. It just means the answer to the troubles of America and the world cannot be addressed by any of the commonplace political members. It means the answer lies outside of the business-as-usual machinery.

The answer must lie with individual representatives who will cleave to an agenda more powerful than their party affiliation, and more powerful than the ocean of money existing to defeat it.

It would be naive to expect this kind of strength in representation to come from any individual’s character, the forces of corruption are far too strong. Undeviating representation can only come from a compact made with the agenda itself. It’s time to elect people who swear to follow a path laid down clearly in advance.

We’re not going to be able to root out this corrupted nest of politicians for any cause less than sustainable world. If the inhabitable biological world were not dying, none of this would matter much. As things stand however, political corruption is in the way, and has to go. Nothing less than excellent accountability will suffice now. The crisis itself forms the agenda and lends strength to its executives.

Greider Warned Us About the Democrats

A year ago William Greider spelled out very clearly the dilemma faced by the Democrats, namely: can they return to their historic values against the corruption of money that has saturated them in the last three decades?

We saw in 2009 that so far they are unable. Instead of watching the Democrats fail all through that year, I wish I’d paid more attention to Greider and spent more energy working towards the new economy. Lesson learned.

I like Greider. As a fervent Fed-watcher I read his 1987 book, Secrets of the Temple, back in that time, and learned for the rest of my life what to expect from recessions.

What to expect from recessions you ask? Well, the productive, wealth-creating economy, and the workers and business leaders dependent on that economy, will endure the wait of attrition – with help from nobody – until the economy begins to gather force again from the new productivity created largely by productive workers and leaders, usually in new margins and areas of effort.

Then the thieves will come back into the daylight and begin to rip off the economy again, taking as much in unfair economic rents, and by actual fraud and theft, as government imperfection and corruption will allow, and distorting the economy by degrees towards its next collapse.

These processes go by different names as the fashions change.

DiCaprio’s 11th Hour Sums Up the Situation

I have been a great supporter of Barack Obama. But I watched the Democrats blink after Massachusetts and walk away from health care with their nerve shattered, and the White House was nowhere to be seen or heard. Exactly when a rallying cry could have shored up the crumbling spine of an entire political party and carried the field of battle, Obama held his silence.

It was then I realized his strategy wasn’t good enough for these times, and would fail to create for us what we must actually create ourselves.

Take a look at my bookmarks archive to see reactions in those fateful days. Here’s how three people in a row felt in the comments thread of Ezra Klein’s blog as we watched health care reform vanish. The third one is me.

I walked away on that day from a year’s worth of fascination with our broken, decayed and ghostlike democratic process, and turned back to the task at hand, which is to help create sustainable world.

Reversing climate damage and restoring the biosphere will not happen from the greatness of governments, but from the persistence of people.

I think this excerpt from Leonardo DiCaprio’s 2007 film The 11th Hour says more eloquently than I could ever write what’s wrong with our nation’s great institutions, and the direction we must point our efforts in now.

The 11th Hour: The forces blocking change

And since I hate it when people provide links and don’t say what’s in them, let me throw a bit of transcript your way.

Around 1:50 Michel Gelobter explains that despite appearances, in reality we have very responsive political leaders, it’s just that they’re responsive to wealth, and to money, and to corporate power.

And the reason our politicians aren’t responding to global warming is that their response is to a higher power. It’s to the fossil fuel industry.

Starting at 3:15 listen to David Orr describe how our political system has failed us with climate change. The general public wants a green world of renewables and clean air, but this fails to materialize. In a beautiful piece of imagery, Orr cites “the chasm between public opinion and public policy,” and the bridge across that chasm which we call “government.”

The bridge is broken, he explains.

Forget Democrat Loss of Nerve, Message Is Still the Planet

ballotToday is a good day to ask, what would be so bad with voting green? I think the only reason a lot of people placed their climate anxiety on hold was to join the swell that supplied a Democrat majority. Now one has to wonder if this was worth foregoing the green message.

Hearts are heavy across the so-called “progressive” spectrum because the Democratic party and president seem to have walked away from passing health care reform, their nerves shattered by the Republican win of Ted Kennedy’s old seat in Massachusetts.

Ezra Klein asked yesterday, Can Democrats govern? and response from commenters highlighted fears that the base of voting support would fracture, people would not vote, or vote green, as it this were a bad thing.

If the Democrats can’t use the majority that a number of different interests joined together to give them – if they can’t even pass desirable legislation at the national level – then what good are they to the environmental cause?

If partisan politics won’t work, then sustainability candidates are the only answer, regardless of where they come from.

The planet’s comfort zone for human civilization is running out, quickly. This forms its own messaging, no packaging required. This issue won’t go away, it will rise in damage and immediacy month by month, year after year, unremittingly, right up to endgame.

What is needed are people who can get things done. From their recent record it didn’t look as if it would be the Republicans solving our problems. And from the beginning it was always questionable if the Democrats were able to step into this requirement.

For the future of the Democrat label as a political identity, a little more loss of nerve such as we’re seeing at the moment and Democrats will be finished with progressive dialog, because the planet’s fate itself will soon take over that entire conversation.

Oddly, even as the Dems go down, Obama may rise, on this one front, the most important of all. And as Joe Romm shows today, many Republicans seem interested in saving the biosphere. There is indeed much bi-partisan support for climate legislation.

It’s time for those who care about the planet to throw away party affiliation, for those independent voters who joined the Democrats in hopes of getting change to focus instead on sustainability platforms, wherever they may be found. It’s time for sustainability to become the number one vote-getting plank in any representative’s platform.

Confirmed: American Government Is Broken

alleyThere’s more good commentary on the old America, the one that’s broken and needs to fix itself.

Two commentators, both of whom have spent time in China recently, have come back to worry on the bone that everyone seems to be chewing now, asking: is America in permanent decline, or can it be fixed?

I noted recently that the political process is broken, and it’s a theme we’ll see more of as the country comes to terms with what Obama’s first year has shown us. I think in 2009 we saw a great president get weighted down to a crawl because Congress and his own administration was captured by lobbyists.

We’ve seen obstruction to change, and a lack of will to change, that serve at least to show us how paralyzed the systems of government have become.

James Fallows has over 10,000 words at The Atlantic contemplating the questions of how badly America is broken right now. He concludes that external competition has very little bearing on our current issues, and that the American spirit is still in good shape, but that government is gridlocked.

That is the American tragedy of the early 21st century: a vital and self-renewing culture that attracts the world’s talent, and a governing system that increasingly looks like a joke. One thing I’ve never heard in my time overseas is ‘I wish we had a Senate like yours.’
- How America Can Rise Again

Fallows recounts how special-interest groups take bites out of the total national wealth, easier to implement than to remove. This amounts over time to a gradual hardening of the arteries, and “government’s progressive loss of the ability to adapt” to the requirements of the people.

Fallows is not optimistic that we the people can reform our government, but he makes a point that I really want to emphasize: when public life goes down, private life goes down after it. A nation without a strong, democratic public-policy interest cannot progress scientifically or economically.

Fallows points out that California has now been forced to start on the road that demonstrates this.

And since this seems counter to the easy Libertarian notion that less government is good for the private sector, as a one-time libertarian analyst and essayist I want to come down heavily with Fallows on this point. Read his article for greater illustration.

A second analysis of the American decline (or not) gets into the nuances with an actual checklist we can sink our teeth into. Professor Orville Schell has been thinking about our national condition for some years as he travels around the world, and his tentative conclusions are reprised in the Los Angeles Times under three headings:

  • Aspects of U.S. life that are still vigorous and filled with potential.
  • Aspects of U.S. life that still function but need help.
  • Aspects of U.S. life in need of drastic intervention.

Along with the national infrastructure, the airports and the public schools, Professor Schell dumps both federal and state government into the last category, “in need of drastic intervention.” Yep.

And note also his warning for the future:

I started keeping these lists because I was searching for things that would banish that dispiriting sense that America is in decline. And yet the can-do list remains unbearably short and the can’t-do one grows each time I travel.
America’s can’t-do list

Can we fix America? It’s clear that government will not fix itself. And Obama’s inability to change it may have surprised him as much as it surprised us. He has yet to turn to the only people who can help him – us the people ourselves – and he may never. I think he’s the best we’ll ever get, and if he fails to enact change in the government then it’s only us left.

As we know from Kevin Drum’s analysis of Wall Street and its capture of both government and media, the answer to much of our government’s paralysis lies with campaign-finance reform. The administration itself is beholden to its contributors also.

We can fix the productive economy by developing the new sustainable industries and combating climate change. This takes government, and government will increasingly find itself compelled to be present and active in these areas, especially as they show their profitability and GDP-strengthening virtues.

But how to get the thieves out of the new economy, and how to get the government to attend to the commonwealth? I’m hearing agreement that a new refrain must begin to call the campaign contributions and the lobbyist dollars the bribes that they are.

Political rhetoric founded on calling bribes what they are would be the start of a good thing for the Union.

An Economy of Thieves

ratI’m trying to stay away from working with the old economy, especially since I declared for the new economy, but good commentary deserves mention. Kevin Drum has a beautifully written article explaining in completely clear terms how Wall Street managed to walk away unscathed from the global disaster it left the rest of us buried under.

It’s the kind of piece you can send to any of your friends and they will see a light breaking as they read it. The article, Capital City, has this to say: “A year after the biggest bailout in US history, Wall Street lobbyists don’t just have influence in Washington. They own it lock, stock, and barrel.”

But Drum’s story is not about economics, it’s about politics, and more precisely about political lobbying. The finance lobby has quite simply captured the entire U.S. government, and to a large extent it’s taken over the media and popular culture as well.

Now if the aerospace lobby had told us after the 1986 Challenger disaster that the key to better performance was to turbocharge the engines and quit performing preflight inspections, everyone would have agreed that they were crazy. Yet that’s essentially what the finance lobby has done over the past decade, and in some weird way we were too mesmerized to recognize it. Within months of a near catastrophe caused by one of the industry’s brightest stars, the lobbyists were busily making certain that it would happen again—and that when it did happen, it would be bigger and more disastrous than ever.

If you read Drum’s article you’ll experience tingles of recognition from your own life as you realize how severely the working taxpayers have been short-changed over the last three decades.

Health Care Meta Messages

redcrossI’ve studied a broad spectrum of commentary on the passage of the health care bill, and I side squarely with Jonathan Chait in calling it a triumph. Not for what it comprises in its messy compromises today, but for the strategic gateway it opens to the future. History will smile on it.

Chait best explains all the reasons why the bill constitutes what he calls “the most significant American legislative triumph in at least four decades.” Read the piece in the New Republic: And the Rest Is Just Noise.

Chait wonders why so few people can see the triumph for what it is. And part of the answer is that almost no one knows the details anymore of what’s in the bill, largely from the obscuring dust storm of FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) that the Republicans and other special interests stirred up in hopes of killing all progress.

Beyond this however I think the greatest blow has come from seeing how hard it’s been for this administration and this congress to get anything done, even with a massive electoral mandate behind it. Following on the heels of the financial bailout, which saw bi-partisan capture of both legislative and executive branches by Wall Street, the agony of the health care process has shown just how paralyzed and broken our government has become.

The Political Process Is Broken

shellEven as the political process grinds forward on health care reform and financial regulation, the capitulations made along the way by Congress and the administration have puzzled countless supporters of these reforms. The larger story behind these frustrations is that the political process is broken.

Amy Goodman at Democracy Now talked this week with Robert Johnson, a global expert on finance and international monetary reform, to find out why his testimony was silenced when he spoke before Congress advocating more regulation of derivatives. His simple explanation is that business very completely owns our representatives through the campaign finance system. This structural dysfunction, says Johnson, is what prevents much of the reform from getting passed.

Here’s the clip of yesterday’s broadcast. The interview starts at minute 11:25 and goes to 30:00. There’s also a transcript available  at the website.

Harper’s magazine also observed the silencing of Johnson, and commented correctly that it shows how broken the system is. See An Object Lesson in Governmental Failure: Derivatives reform

It’s frustrating to see how gridlocked the system has become, also quite scary given the radical new thinking increasingly required by today’s world – this is thinking that doesn’t seem possible given our representatives’ extreme condition of servitude. Business owns democracy, and despite any belief one might have in the wholesome ministrations of the free-market dynamic, this ownership will not make democracy stronger or more efficient.

The article Amy Goodman refers to by Nouriel Roubini is worth reading to get a taste of how the U.S. government has been reinflating the very bubble that recently collapsed. That collapse finds most of us still buried in rubble – but not the traders, who are already breathing intoxicating air once again. See if you can walk away from this title: Mother of all Carry Trades Faces an Inevitable Bust.

And about those derivatives by the way. If you need a perspective on the danger posed by an amount the size of global GDP trading around the world unsecured by anything but taxpayers, read someone else’s comment I saved as a note-to-self here in a post back in May called Remember the Derivatives.

How Health Care Works in Five Other Countries

Here on the eve of Obama’s speech on health care before Congress, I just caught up with a Frontline special from 2008 on how five industrialized nations around the world handle their own health care.

It’s compelling viewing. I felt somewhat ashamed of how poorly America has done when it comes to this most basic of needs for sustaining a society. The countries examined are Britain, Japan, Germany, Taiwan and Switzerland. We could take lessons from any of them.

Sick Around the World

Principled Pelosi

I loved to read this about Nancy Pelosi, especially in a time of people gunning for her, thinking she makes for helpless prey. Chickenhearts themselves, they don’t understand true toughness. I didn’t realize Pelosi had been so principled all this time, one of the very few people who decried the US’s delinking of human rights from its other considerations of relations with China.

I say bless her for her courage – far beyond all of the gutless cowards in their high office and the greedheads in business who turned their backs on both the Tibetan and the Chinese people. Pelosi, love you we do … read the full post from the International Campaign for Tibet:

Pelosi, we love you!

So read one of the slogans painted by a group of Chinese on the main gate of Beijing’s propaganda office directed at the Speaker during her China trip this week. It is a sentiment shared by those of us in Washington who advocate for human rights in China and Tibet. After all, it is Pelosi who has been the most outspoken congressional truth-teller of Beijing’s human rights record for the last two decades, Pelosi who brazenly unfurled a democracy banner in Tiananmen Square in 1991, Pelosi who stood against President Clinton’s decision to delink human rights consideration from US trade policy with China and worked against approving permanent normal trade relations with China, Pelosi who not only criticized China’s policies in Tibet but journeyed to Dharamsala to deliver the message from the mountain top, and Pelosi who extended an invitation to President Bush to join her in awarding His Holiness the Dalai Lama the Congressional Gold Medal, making possible the first public appearance of a US President standing beside the great Tibetan leader. Ah, yes, and it is Pelosi who insists on referring to her concerns for human rights in China AND Tibet.

Evidently in search of a thesis, the press has drilled down to her pre-travel comments, which focused on her climate change mission and not on human rights. This, some journos say, is indicative of a pulling back on human rights demands on China by the Democratic leadership and the White House so that the US can work more harmoniously with Beijing on other pressing issues. Oh please. Playing the “either-or” game is something out of China’s diplomatic playbook, not ours—the President and his team have more than proven that they can multi-task.

Nancy Pelosi is smart, politically skillful and, now, very powerful—and these assets, married with her compassion and determination, have come together to serve the cause of human rights in China AND Tibet. This tiger can’t change her stripes.

Sustainable Economics Ends Political Corruption

The Washington Post reported recently on a new study that finds the return on political corruption – lobbying, to use the airbrushed word – can yield as much as a 22,000 percent rate of return on the investment of companies who are successful. The newspaper makes this crucial point: “The study by researchers at the University of Kansas underscores the central reason that lobbying has become a $3 billion-a-year industry in Washington: It pays.”

The researchers calculated an average rate of return of 22,000 percent for those companies that helped lobby for the tax break. Eli Lilly, for example, reported in disclosure documents that it spent $8.5 million in 2003 and 2004 to lobby for the provision — and eventually gained tax savings of more than $2 billion.

The tax break in question was included as part of the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004, and was billed as a way to create jobs in the United States by requiring companies to use the money for specific purposes.

But the Congressional Research Service and others have since found that many companies cut jobs in the wake of the tax break and that nearly all the money was used for stock buybacks or dividends.

I have long wondered about the economic cost of corruption. I had always guessed the formula would go like this: buy a politician for $3 million, and reap a return of $300 million, by creating an unnecessary process that costs the commonwealth $3 billion. I always thought that it would be much more efficient to pay the politician $5 million, in return for rigorous transparency and scrutiny, and make corruption an offense very close to treason: after all, sovereign money is at stake.

Transforming the current global economy into one that is completely sustainable will involve more than simply replacing today’s capital projects with new green initiatives. We also have to look at politics, and use new policy mechanisms to put an end to the practice known today as “lobbying”, best understood by its old-fashioned name of “corruption.”

A sustainable economy is one in which all business models rigorously internalize all costs into themselves. This is the opposite of the way capitalism and industrialism have developed, where the object is to externalize the greatest number of costs onto others, often unwitting stakeholders. So for example, a fleet of trucks that isn’t taxed enough to repair the roads it wears down illustrates a business model that has externalized part of its true cost.

And the clash with public policy is inevitable, since most business operations depend to some extent on the public infrastructure. Externalizing true costs increasingly requires political assistance – and those unwitting stakeholders tend to be the taxpayers and the politically powerless – as physical resources become less freely available, and because frequently the true costs of business operations involve wear on the public infrastructure, or damage to the planetary ecosystem itself.

Sustainability therefore demands a true accounting of costs, and this has to mean the end of corruption in politics. A turbulent planet suffering from total system collapse throws a high-stakes chip onto the table, against which the old ways of bribery and corruption will have to fight a desperate rearguard action. What will remain after the battle is done, none can say.

The Rich Run The Economy

During these times of economic crisis we are afforded a rare opportunity to observe the interplay between the various forces that influence the actions of our country and our money. The major banks of the nation have brought the economy to its knees – to put it in plain terms – and yet they, rather than the government, largely seem to be in charge of how the nation will bail them out, and restore the working of the productive economy.

So who’s really running this country? How can the banks get away with sacrificing our economic recovery in order purely to buy time for themselves? What power are we seeing in play here?

Simon Johnson is an influential commentator on the economic situation, and an economist who used to work for the International Monetary Fund. The IMF specializes in cleaning up when a country – generally small or third-world – experiences a collapse of its economy. Johnson, and his ex-colleagues, recognize the U.S. economic situation as a typical IMF intervention case, with the crucial difference that globally the USA is economically too big to fail, and politically far too big for the IMF to push around.

Otherwise, says Johnson, the IMF would come in, assist the government in seizing the banks, and coordinate recapitalizing and restructuring the financial system. In the process, says Johnson, a lot of the financial elite – the oligarchy, to use the correct term – would be displaced. In the history of interventions, not all oligarchs get swept away, many manage to stay in power. And often of course, those who fall from influence are replaced by other players, the new elite.

Johnson has a new article appearing in the May issue of the Atlantic, detailing why and how we should take this opportunity to break up the current American oligarchy. He foreshadowed this call in an interview with Bill Moyers that aired on PBS February 13th, when he explained the power struggle we’re seeing in the crisis. Both a transcript and a video exist of the interview, and it’s well worth studying.

The politics that we take for granted in the “banana republic” dramas on the world stage seem to be the exact politics we are witnessing in America today. Here we have a new President of great apparent integrity, and unquestioned political skill, forced to deal with an inherited economic crisis, and revealing by his actions the limits of presidential power, and the compromises that must be made, in creating desired outcomes. Obama, as a consummately skilled politician, seems to recognize these ground rules, and is offering us a textbook case study of where the power lies, and how to deal with it.

The recalcitrance of the banks, and their ability to stonewall, can be explained simply by the “debtor’s leverage” they hold over the economy. They want us to buy their toxic assets, but only at a price they like. Otherwise, they simply say no. The government can’t just walk away because it has to restore the economy. James Kwak, a contributor to Simon Johnson’s site Baseline Scenario, illustrated this well, talking about his and Johnson’s early proposal to recapitalize the banks, and their “overestimation” of the government’s power to force a solution.[4]

The politics of money and government, however, run deeper than simple debtor’s leverage. Insider influence and cozy relationships have their rewards. The New York Times, in an Op-Ed piece written by Fortune contributing editor William D. Cohan on April 14th, told of the currently rising fortunes of Goldman Sachs, amidst the disarray of its competitors, in a story that Simon Johnson would recognize instantly as the infighting happening before our eyes within the oligarchy.

Politically I Think We’re Fine

I’ve been gone, and coming back I notice that everybody is still debating the meaning and merits of nationalizing the bad banks.

Obama’s speech to the Congress on February 24 was the last thing I posted here. By that point, having watched him closely since the election, I felt quite assured that he is the man we think he is. I especially liked this part:

Finally, I want to be very clear at the outset that while everyone has a right to take part in this discussion, no one has the right to take it over. The status quo is the one option that is not on the table. And those who seek to block any reform at any cost will not prevail this time around.

I took a break, concluding that his skill as a politician is consummate. I decided that all the grains of minuscule media speculation about how the political day is going every minute only reflect a neurotic impatience, which is mandated to these poor reporters and bloggers by an economy that ruthlessly demands constant production and consumption, even of view.

A commenter on Ezra’s blog, in a post dealing with the Republican response to Obama’s speech, nailed down how I feel about what’s happening:

Barack Obama uses that term to describe not simply an agent of “the People,” but rather our amplified voice, the collective extension of our individual efforts, the expression of our will, and the means to implement our values in concrete ways that benefit both the individual and the whole. In short – The People and The Government are inseparable. Government is not something alien or apart from the citizens of this country – rather it is the citizens of this country. I believe this is what our Founding Fathers intended when they designed a form of government under which they wanted to live, and for which they were willing to die.

For Bobby Jindal, that’s not true. Instead, Government is some faceless, irrational collection of bureaucrats operating under an insane system of rules and regulations, and standing in the way of our “individual freedoms.” It’s something foreign to be feared, limited, and resisted. And the most profound irony of all is that for me, and I suspect the majority of this country, that was exactly how we felt during the Bush administration. But now, for the first time in as long as I can remember, I believe that we’re finally in the process of beginning to feel that we own our Government. That’s a profound shift into a shared sense of individual and collective responsibility – and an accomplishment more than sufficient to make Barack Obama’s first 100 days in office an unqualified success.

I think that Obama will not lose ground in the ways that commentators speculate he will. He will hold the people, and separate himself from all the politicians, just as Charlie Cook has surmised from early in the game:

Here are two questions to ponder over the table in the Rayburn Cafeteria. The first is whether, over the next couple of months, President Obama’s job approval numbers are tethered to successes and failures, or are they more conceptual — such that two-thirds of Americans are either optimistic or hopeful about his presidency and are likely to give him the benefit of the doubt.

The second question is whether the strategies employed by congressional Republicans will help or further isolate them from swing voters.


A decent bet might be that we will begin to see Obama utilize his own variation on triangulation, setting himself and his administration as equidistant between Republicans on the far right and Democrats on the far left. This would allow him to score points at the expense of each side’s more extreme elements by inviting lawmakers to join him in the middle. With few congressional Republicans left from swing states and districts, that center ground will necessarily be made up of more Democrats than Republicans, but he will work hard to ensure that there are just enough from the GOP side to show compromise.

There is no doubt congressional leaders of both parties will mock this scenario, and the Obama White House will be scoring points at their expense.
- For Obama And GOP, Questions Of Perception

Cook points out in a subsequent report that Obama came through the stimulus legislative effort with high approval in the polls, much higher than Demeocrats, and vastly higher than Republicans, who were perceived with disapproval. See Obama’s Triangulation Squares With Public

This thought – which Charlie Cook has been propounding since the beginning of Febuary – was recently aired also by David Tomasky, as a pronouncement that “bipartisanship is a strategy. It’s a strategy aimed at isolating the right, and isolating the obstructionists in Congress.”

I think it’s more than just a ploy, however, and I think it aims at a far more significant end, namely the restoration (or the creation) of some real non-partisan discussion in the public arena. I made a pretty handsome comment, I like to think, to that effect on a blog that very night of the speech:

Of course he finessed the Republicans in the ways that all agree above. But this doesn’t have to be the end of his goals.

His long term desire may extend very far beyond simply allowing the Republicans to destroy themselves. He may in fact mean what he has said all along, and hope to restore some semblance of discussion across partisan lines, over time.

Consider that if he proves to be a greater President than both parties and all of their commentators COMBINED, then he can actually lead the nation, set the tone, and dictate the methods of political action.

If he actually creates a true climate of cross-partisan compromise and discussion, then there is no need for one of two parties to wither away. Instead, the strength of party ideology in general can diminish. This would be a vastly larger achievement, one worthy of the consummate politician that we have thought all along he is.

So, we shall see.

Obama Address to Congress February 24, 2009

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009 at 9:01 pm – The White House – Press Office – Remarks of President Barack Obama – Address to Joint Session of Congress.

Here’s the video footage (1 of 6 – click through to YouTube for the full set)

Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery
Address to Joint Session of Congress
Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

Madame Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the First Lady of the United States:

I’ve come here tonight not only to address the distinguished men and women in this great chamber, but to speak frankly and directly to the men and women who sent us here.

I know that for many Americans watching right now, the state of our economy is a concern that rises above all others.  And rightly so.  If you haven’t been personally affected by this recession, you probably know someone who has – a friend; a neighbor; a member of your family.  You don’t need to hear another list of statistics to know that our economy is in crisis, because you live it every day.  It’s the worry you wake up with and the source of sleepless nights.  It’s the job you thought you’d retire from but now have lost; the business you built your dreams upon that’s now hanging by a thread; the college acceptance letter your child had to put back in the envelope.  The impact of this recession is real, and it is everywhere.

But while our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken; though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this:

We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.

The weight of this crisis will not determine the destiny of this nation.  The answers to our problems don’t lie beyond our reach.  They exist in our laboratories and universities; in our fields and our factories; in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working people on Earth.  Those qualities that have made America the greatest force of progress and prosperity in human history we still possess in ample measure.  What is required now is for this country to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more.

Now, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that for too long, we have not always met these responsibilities – as a government or as a people.  I say this not to lay blame or look backwards, but because it is only by understanding how we arrived at this moment that we’ll be able to lift ourselves out of this predicament.

The fact is, our economy did not fall into decline overnight.  Nor did all of our problems begin when the housing market collapsed or the stock market sank.  We have known for decades that our survival depends on finding new sources of energy.  Yet we import more oil today than ever before.  The cost of health care eats up more and more of our savings each year, yet we keep delaying reform.  Our children will compete for jobs in a global economy that too many of our schools do not prepare them for.  And though all these challenges went unsolved, we still managed to spend more money and pile up more debt, both as individuals and through our government, than ever before.

In other words, we have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election.  A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future.  Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market.  People bought homes they knew they couldn’t afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway.  And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day.

Well that day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here.

Now is the time to act boldly and wisely – to not only revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity.  Now is the time to jumpstart job creation, re-start lending, and invest in areas like energy, health care, and education that will grow our economy, even as we make hard choices to bring our deficit down.  That is what my economic agenda is designed to do, and that’s what I’d like to talk to you about tonight.

It’s an agenda that begins with jobs.

As soon as I took office, I asked this Congress to send me a recovery plan by President’s Day that would put people back to work and put money in their pockets.  Not because I believe in bigger government – I don’t.  Not because I’m not mindful of the massive debt we’ve inherited – I am.  I called for action because the failure to do so would have cost more jobs and caused more hardships.  In fact, a failure to act would have worsened our long-term deficit by assuring weak economic growth for years.  That’s why I pushed for quick action.  And tonight, I am grateful that this Congress delivered, and pleased to say that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is now law.

Over the next two years, this plan will save or create 3.5 million jobs.  More than 90% of these jobs will be in the private sector – jobs rebuilding our roads and bridges; constructing wind turbines and solar panels; laying broadband and expanding mass transit.

Because of this plan, there are teachers who can now keep their jobs and educate our kids.  Health care professionals can continue caring for our sick.  There are 57 police officers who are still on the streets of Minneapolis tonight because this plan prevented the layoffs their department was about to make.

Because of this plan, 95% of the working households in America will receive a tax cut – a tax cut that you will see in your paychecks beginning on April 1st.

Because of this plan, families who are struggling to pay tuition costs will receive a $2,500 tax credit for all four years of college.  And Americans who have lost their jobs in this recession will be able to receive extended unemployment benefits and continued health care coverage to help them weather this storm.

I know there are some in this chamber and watching at home who are skeptical of whether this plan will work.  I understand that skepticism.  Here in Washington, we’ve all seen how quickly good intentions can turn into broken promises and wasteful spending.  And with a plan of this scale comes enormous responsibility to get it right.

That is why I have asked Vice President Biden to lead a tough, unprecedented oversight effort – because nobody messes with Joe.  I have told each member of my Cabinet as well as mayors and governors across the country that they will be held accountable by me and the American people for every dollar they spend.  I have appointed a proven and aggressive Inspector General to ferret out any and all cases of waste and fraud.  And we have created a new website called so that every American can find out how and where their money is being spent.

So the recovery plan we passed is the first step in getting our economy back on track.  But it is just the first step.  Because even if we manage this plan flawlessly, there will be no real recovery unless we clean up the credit crisis that has severely weakened our financial system.

I want to speak plainly and candidly about this issue tonight, because every American should know that it directly affects you and your family’s well-being.  You should also know that the money you’ve deposited in banks across the country is safe; your insurance is secure; and you can rely on the continued operation of our financial system.  That is not the source of concern.

The concern is that if we do not re-start lending in this country, our recovery will be choked off before it even begins.

You see, the flow of credit is the lifeblood of our economy.  The ability to get a loan is how you finance the purchase of everything from a home to a car to a college education; how stores stock their shelves, farms buy equipment, and businesses make payroll.

But credit has stopped flowing the way it should.  Too many bad loans from the housing crisis have made their way onto the books of too many banks.  With so much debt and so little confidence, these banks are now fearful of lending out any more money to households, to businesses, or to each other.  When there is no lending, families can’t afford to buy homes or cars.  So businesses are forced to make layoffs.  Our economy suffers even more, and credit dries up even further.

That is why this administration is moving swiftly and aggressively to break this destructive cycle, restore confidence, and re-start lending.

We will do so in several ways.  First, we are creating a new lending fund that represents the largest effort ever to help provide auto loans, college loans, and small business loans to the consumers and entrepreneurs who keep this economy running.

Second, we have launched a housing plan that will help responsible families facing the threat of foreclosure lower their monthly payments and re-finance their mortgages.  It’s a plan that won’t help speculators or that neighbor down the street who bought a house he could never hope to afford, but it will help millions of Americans who are struggling with declining home values – Americans who will now be able to take advantage of the lower interest rates that this plan has already helped bring about.  In fact, the average family who re-finances today can save nearly $2000 per year on their mortgage.

Third, we will act with the full force of the federal government to ensure that the major banks that Americans depend on have enough confidence and enough money to lend even in more difficult times.  And when we learn that a major bank has serious problems, we will hold accountable those responsible, force the necessary adjustments, provide the support to clean up their balance sheets, and assure the continuity of a strong, viable institution that can serve our people and our economy.

I understand that on any given day, Wall Street may be more comforted by an approach that gives banks bailouts with no strings attached, and that holds nobody accountable for their reckless decisions.  But such an approach won’t solve the problem.  And our goal is to quicken the day when we re-start lending to the American people and American business and end this crisis once and for all.

I intend to hold these banks fully accountable for the assistance they receive, and this time, they will have to clearly demonstrate how taxpayer dollars result in more lending for the American taxpayer.  This time, CEOs won’t be able to use taxpayer money to pad their paychecks or buy fancy drapes or disappear on a private jet.  Those days are over.

Still, this plan will require significant resources from the federal government – and yes, probably more than we’ve already set aside.  But while the cost of action will be great, I can assure you that the cost of inaction will be far greater, for it could result in an economy that sputters along for not months or years, but perhaps a decade.  That would be worse for our deficit, worse for business, worse for you, and worse for the next generation.  And I refuse to let that happen.

I understand that when the last administration asked this Congress to provide assistance for struggling banks, Democrats and Republicans alike were infuriated by the mismanagement and results that followed.  So were the American taxpayers.  So was I.

So I know how unpopular it is to be seen as helping banks right now, especially when everyone is suffering in part from their bad decisions.  I promise you – I get it.

But I also know that in a time of crisis, we cannot afford to govern out of anger, or yield to the politics of the moment.  My job – our job – is to solve the problem.  Our job is to govern with a sense of responsibility.  I will not spend a single penny for the purpose of rewarding a single Wall Street executive, but I will do whatever it takes to help the small business that can’t pay its workers or the family that has saved and still can’t get a mortgage.

That’s what this is about.  It’s not about helping banks – it’s about helping people.  Because when credit is available again, that young family can finally buy a new home.  And then some company will hire workers to build it.  And then those workers will have money to spend, and if they can get a loan too, maybe they’ll finally buy that car, or open their own business.  Investors will return to the market, and American families will see their retirement secured once more.  Slowly, but surely, confidence will return, and our economy will recover.

So I ask this Congress to join me in doing whatever proves necessary.  Because we cannot consign our nation to an open-ended recession.  And to ensure that a crisis of this magnitude never happens again, I ask Congress to move quickly on legislation that will finally reform our outdated regulatory system.  It is time to put in place tough, new common-sense rules of the road so that our financial market rewards drive and innovation, and punishes short-cuts and abuse.

The recovery plan and the financial stability plan are the immediate steps we’re taking to revive our economy in the short-term.  But the only way to fully restore America’s economic strength is to make the long-term investments that will lead to new jobs, new industries, and a renewed ability to compete with the rest of the world. The only way this century will be another American century is if we confront at last the price of our dependence on oil and the high cost of health care; the schools that aren’t preparing our children and the mountain of debt they stand to inherit.  That is our responsibility.

In the next few days, I will submit a budget to Congress.  So often, we have come to view these documents as simply numbers on a page or laundry lists of programs.  I see this document differently.  I see it as a vision for America – as a blueprint for our future.

My budget does not attempt to solve every problem or address every issue.  It reflects the stark reality of what we’ve inherited – a trillion dollar deficit, a financial crisis, and a costly recession.

Given these realities, everyone in this chamber – Democrats and Republicans – will have to sacrifice some worthy priorities for which there are no dollars.  And that includes me.

But that does not mean we can afford to ignore our long-term challenges.  I reject the view that says our problems will simply take care of themselves; that says government has no role in laying the foundation for our common prosperity.

For history tells a different story.  History reminds us that at every moment of economic upheaval and transformation, this nation has responded with bold action and big ideas.  In the midst of civil war, we laid railroad tracks from one coast to another that spurred commerce and industry.  From the turmoil of the Industrial Revolution came a system of public high schools that prepared our citizens for a new age.  In the wake of war and depression, the GI Bill sent a generation to college and created the largest middle-class in history.  And a twilight struggle for freedom led to a nation of highways, an American on the moon, and an explosion of technology that still shapes our world.

In each case, government didn’t supplant private enterprise; it catalyzed private enterprise.  It created the conditions for thousands of entrepreneurs and new businesses to adapt and to thrive.

We are a nation that has seen promise amid peril, and claimed opportunity from ordeal.  Now we must be that nation again.  That is why, even as it cuts back on the programs we don’t need, the budget I submit will invest in the three areas that are absolutely critical to our economic future:  energy, health care, and education.

It begins with energy.

We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century.  And yet, it is China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient.  We invented solar technology, but we’ve fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it.  New plug-in hybrids roll off our assembly lines, but they will run on batteries made in Korea.

Well I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders – and I know you don’t either.  It is time for America to lead again.

Thanks to our recovery plan, we will double this nation’s supply of renewable energy in the next three years.  We have also made the largest investment in basic research funding in American history – an investment that will spur not only new discoveries in energy, but breakthroughs in medicine, science, and technology.

We will soon lay down thousands of miles of power lines that can carry new energy to cities and towns across this country.  And we will put Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions of dollars on our energy bills.

But to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy.  So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America.  And to support that innovation, we will invest fifteen billion dollars a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America.

As for our auto industry, everyone recognizes that years of bad decision-making and a global recession have pushed our automakers to the brink.  We should not, and will not, protect them from their own bad practices.  But we are committed to the goal of a re-tooled, re-imagined auto industry that can compete and win.  Millions of jobs depend on it.  Scores of communities depend on it.  And I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it.

None of this will come without cost, nor will it be easy.  But this is America.  We don’t do what’s easy.  We do what is necessary to move this country forward.

For that same reason, we must also address the crushing cost of health care.

This is a cost that now causes a bankruptcy in America every thirty seconds.  By the end of the year, it could cause 1.5 million Americans to lose their homes.  In the last eight years, premiums have grown four times faster than wages.  And in each of these years, one million more Americans have lost their health insurance.  It is one of the major reasons why small businesses close their doors and corporations ship jobs overseas.  And it’s one of the largest and fastest-growing parts of our budget.

Given these facts, we can no longer afford to put health care reform on hold.

Already, we have done more to advance the cause of health care reform in the last thirty days than we have in the last decade.  When it was days old, this Congress passed a law to provide and protect health insurance for eleven million American children whose parents work full-time.  Our recovery plan will invest in electronic health records and new technology that will reduce errors, bring down costs, ensure privacy, and save lives.  It will launch a new effort to conquer a disease that has touched the life of nearly every American by seeking a cure for cancer in our time.  And it makes the largest investment ever in preventive care, because that is one of the best ways to keep our people healthy and our costs under control.

This budget builds on these reforms.  It includes an historic commitment to comprehensive health care reform – a down-payment on the principle that we must have quality, affordable health care for every American.  It’s a commitment that’s paid for in part by efficiencies in our system that are long overdue.  And it’s a step we must take if we hope to bring down our deficit in the years to come.

Now, there will be many different opinions and ideas about how to achieve reform, and that is why I’m bringing together businesses and workers, doctors and health care providers, Democrats and Republicans to begin work on this issue next week.

I suffer no illusions that this will be an easy process.  It will be hard.  But I also know that nearly a century after Teddy Roosevelt first called for reform, the cost of our health care has weighed down our economy and the conscience of our nation long enough.  So let there be no doubt: health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year.

The third challenge we must address is the urgent need to expand the promise of education in America.

In a global economy where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity – it is a pre-requisite.

Right now, three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require more than a high school diploma.  And yet, just over half of our citizens have that level of education.  We have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation.  And half of the students who begin college never finish.

This is a prescription for economic decline, because we know the countries that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow.  That is why it will be the goal of this administration to ensure that every child has access to a complete and competitive education – from the day they are born to the day they begin a career.

Already, we have made an historic investment in education through the economic recovery plan.  We have dramatically expanded early childhood education and will continue to improve its quality, because we know that the most formative learning comes in those first years of life.  We have made college affordable for nearly seven million more students.  And we have provided the resources necessary to prevent painful cuts and teacher layoffs that would set back our children’s progress.

But we know that our schools don’t just need more resources.  They need more reform.  That is why this budget creates new incentives for teacher performance; pathways for advancement, and rewards for success.  We’ll invest in innovative programs that are already helping schools meet high standards and close achievement gaps.  And we will expand our commitment to charter schools.

It is our responsibility as lawmakers and educators to make this system work.  But it is the responsibility of every citizen to participate in it.  And so tonight, I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training.  This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship.  But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma.  And dropping out of high school is no longer an option.  It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country – and this country needs and values the talents of every American.  That is why we will provide the support necessary for you to complete college and meet a new goal:  by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

I know that the price of tuition is higher than ever, which is why if you are willing to volunteer in your neighborhood or give back to your community or serve your country, we will make sure that you can afford a higher education.  And to encourage a renewed spirit of national service for this and future generations, I ask this Congress to send me the bipartisan legislation that bears the name of Senator Orrin Hatch as well as an American who has never stopped asking what he can do for his country – Senator Edward Kennedy.

These education policies will open the doors of opportunity for our children.  But it is up to us to ensure they walk through them.  In the end, there is no program or policy that can substitute for a mother or father who will attend those parent/teacher conferences, or help with homework after dinner, or turn off the TV, put away the video games, and read to their child.  I speak to you not just as a President, but as a father when I say that responsibility for our children’s education must begin at home.

There is, of course, another responsibility we have to our children.  And that is the responsibility to ensure that we do not pass on to them a debt they cannot pay.  With the deficit we inherited, the cost of the crisis we face, and the long-term challenges we must meet, it has never been more important to ensure that as our economy recovers, we do what it takes to bring this deficit down.

I’m proud that we passed the recovery plan free of earmarks, and I want to pass a budget next year that ensures that each dollar we spend reflects only our most important national priorities.

Yesterday, I held a fiscal summit where I pledged to cut the deficit in half by the end of my first term in office.  My administration has also begun to go line by line through the federal budget in order to eliminate wasteful and ineffective programs.  As you can imagine, this is a process that will take some time.  But we’re starting with the biggest lines.  We have already identified two trillion dollars in savings over the next decade.

In this budget, we will end education programs that don’t work and end direct payments to large agribusinesses that don’t need them.  We’ll eliminate the no-bid contracts that have wasted billions in Iraq, and reform our defense budget so that we’re not paying for Cold War-era weapons systems we don’t use.  We will root out the waste, fraud, and abuse in our Medicare program that doesn’t make our seniors any healthier, and we will restore a sense of fairness and balance to our tax code by finally ending the tax breaks for corporations that ship our jobs overseas.

In order to save our children from a future of debt, we will also end the tax breaks for the wealthiest 2% of Americans.  But let me perfectly clear, because I know you’ll hear the same old claims that rolling back these tax breaks means a massive tax increase on the American people:  if your family earns less than $250,000 a year, you will not see your taxes increased a single dime.  I repeat: not one single dime.  In fact, the recovery plan provides a tax cut – that’s right, a tax cut – for 95% of working families.  And these checks are on the way.

To preserve our long-term fiscal health, we must also address the growing costs in Medicare and Social Security.  Comprehensive health care reform is the best way to strengthen Medicare for years to come.  And we must also begin a conversation on how to do the same for Social Security, while creating tax-free universal savings accounts for all Americans.

Finally, because we’re also suffering from a deficit of trust, I am committed to restoring a sense of honesty and accountability to our budget.  That is why this budget looks ahead ten years and accounts for spending that was left out under the old rules – and for the first time, that includes the full cost of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.  For seven years, we have been a nation at war.  No longer will we hide its price.

We are now carefully reviewing our policies in both wars, and I will soon announce a way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people and responsibly ends this war.

And with our friends and allies, we will forge a new and comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat al Qaeda and combat extremism.  Because I will not allow terrorists to plot against the American people from safe havens half a world away.

As we meet here tonight, our men and women in uniform stand watch abroad and more are readying to deploy. To each and every one of them, and to the families who bear the quiet burden of their absence, Americans are united in sending one message: we honor your service, we are inspired by your sacrifice, and you have our unyielding support.  To relieve the strain on our forces, my budget increases the number of our soldiers and Marines. And to keep our sacred trust with those who serve, we will raise their pay, and give our veterans the expanded health care and benefits that they have earned.

To overcome extremism, we must also be vigilant in upholding the values our troops defend – because there is no force in the world more powerful than the example of America. That is why I have ordered the closing of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and will seek swift and certain justice for captured terrorists – because living our values doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us safer and it makes us stronger.  And that is why I can stand here tonight and say without exception or equivocation that the United States of America does not torture.

In words and deeds, we are showing the world that a new era of engagement has begun.  For we know that America cannot meet the threats of this century alone, but the world cannot meet them without America.  We cannot shun the negotiating table, nor ignore the foes or forces that could do us harm.  We are instead called to move forward with the sense of confidence and candor that serious times demand.

To seek progress toward a secure and lasting peace between Israel and her neighbors, we have appointed an envoy to sustain our effort.  To meet the challenges of the 21st century – from terrorism to nuclear proliferation; from pandemic disease to cyber threats to crushing poverty – we will strengthen old alliances, forge new ones, and use all elements of our national power.

And to respond to an economic crisis that is global in scope, we are working with the nations of the G-20 to restore confidence in our financial system, avoid the possibility of escalating protectionism, and spur demand for American goods in markets across the globe.  For the world depends on us to have a strong economy, just as our economy depends on the strength of the world’s.

As we stand at this crossroads of history, the eyes of all people in all nations are once again upon us – watching to see what we do with this moment; waiting for us to lead.

Those of us gathered here tonight have been called to govern in extraordinary times.  It is a tremendous burden, but also a great privilege – one that has been entrusted to few generations of Americans.  For in our hands lies the ability to shape our world for good or for ill.

I know that it is easy to lose sight of this truth – to become cynical and doubtful; consumed with the petty and the trivial.

But in my life, I have also learned that hope is found in unlikely places; that inspiration often comes not from those with the most power or celebrity, but from the dreams and aspirations of Americans who are anything but ordinary.

I think about Leonard Abess, the bank president from Miami who reportedly cashed out of his company, took a $60 million bonus, and gave it out to all 399 people who worked for him, plus another 72 who used to work for him.  He didn’t tell anyone, but when the local newspaper found out, he simply said, ”I knew some of these people since I was 7 years old.  I didn’t feel right getting the money myself.”

I think about Greensburg, Kansas, a town that was completely destroyed by a tornado, but is being rebuilt by its residents as a global example of how clean energy can power an entire community – how it can bring jobs and businesses to a place where piles of bricks and rubble once lay.  “The tragedy was terrible,” said one of the men who helped them rebuild.  “But the folks here know that it also provided an incredible opportunity.”

And I think about Ty’Sheoma Bethea, the young girl from that school I visited in Dillon, South Carolina – a place where the ceilings leak, the paint peels off the walls, and they have to stop teaching six times a day because the train barrels by their classroom.  She has been told that her school is hopeless, but the other day after class she went to the public library and typed up a letter to the people sitting in this room.  She even asked her principal for the money to buy a stamp.  The letter asks us for help, and says, “We are just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself and one day president, so we can make a change to not just the state of South Carolina but also the world.  We are not quitters.”

We are not quitters.

These words and these stories tell us something about the spirit of the people who sent us here.  They tell us that even in the most trying times, amid the most difficult circumstances, there is a generosity, a resilience, a decency, and a determination that perseveres; a willingness to take responsibility for our future and for posterity.

Their resolve must be our inspiration.  Their concerns must be our cause.  And we must show them and all our people that we are equal to the task before us.

I know that we haven’t agreed on every issue thus far, and there are surely times in the future when we will part ways.  But I also know that every American who is sitting here tonight loves this country and wants it to succeed.  That must be the starting point for every debate we have in the coming months, and where we return after those debates are done.  That is the foundation on which the American people expect us to build common ground.

And if we do – if we come together and lift this nation from the depths of this crisis; if we put our people back to work and restart the engine of our prosperity; if we confront without fear the challenges of our time and summon that enduring spirit of an America that does not quit, then someday years from now our children can tell their children that this was the time when we performed, in the words that are carved into this very chamber, “something worthy to be remembered.”  Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.