Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Truth about the President’s Economic Policy Part 2

So, if none of our leaders will provide the truth about the President’s speech in Kansas, someone else will have to do it.

At the beginning of his speech the President builds up his first key concept: optimism.

“My grandparents served during World War II. He was a soldier in Patton's army; she was a worker on a bomber assembly line. And together, they shared the optimism of a nation that triumphed over the Great Depression and over fascism. They believed in an America where hard work paid off, and responsibility was rewarded, and anyone could make it if they tried – no matter who you were, no matter where you came from, no matter how you started out.

And these values gave rise to the largest middle class and the strongest economy that the world has ever known. It was here in America that the most productive workers, the most innovative companies turned out the best products on Earth. And you know what? Every American shared in that pride and in that success – from those in the executive suites to those in middle management to those on the factory floor. So you could have some confidence that if you gave it your all, you'd take enough home to raise your family and send your kids to school and have your health care covered, put a little away for retirement.”

One thing that characterizes most of the President’s speeches, and I’ve noticed it since his first “important” speech in 2004, is that he thinks in non-essentials. What this means is that the principles that underlie his statements are not based on fundamentals but quite often on derivatives of fundamentals. To elaborate; was “optimism” really what made depression-era Americans successful? Or is optimism merely a characteristic derived from a more fundamental characteristic such as the fact that they possessed the uncompromising characteristics of a free people?

You might ask why is this question important? How does it impact the values the President is trying to explicate? First of all, a lack of conceptual clarity, thinking in non-essentials, influences decisions and proposed solutions. If the President is going to talk about what made Americans succeed during that period when his grandparents lived, shouldn’t he refer to their basic characteristics rather than non-essential characteristics? Secondly, it is important to ensure that we aren’t being manipulated in some way. Thinking in non-essentials is a characteristic of leaders who don’t understand where they are and where they are going. In other words, they may be leading you down the wrong road for the sake of their own agendas rather than yours.

This is the problem of thinking in non-essentials: you develop an inability to know, in terms of essentials, what you should do. For instance, if you accept “optimism” as a key characteristic of past Americans you cannot then decide which type of government people should establish. Optimism, not being a fundamental principle, does not explain how man survives. It does not explain how people determine their core values, their core philosophies, their needs, desires and ideas. With optimism as your guide, you cannot identify which essential measures the government should take in order to secure the safety and rights of individuals. The term is without content, standards and meaning.

Optimism is not the key characteristic that made our grandparents’ generation successful. This generation suffered greatly and they were poorly served by their political leadership. Most were not highly educated and they certainly did not have a sense of optimism about the future. In fact, they had been beaten down by poverty and unemployment, hunger and homelessness. Those not completely destroyed by it learned how to survive; they became rugged, practical and dedicated to the survival of their families. What they did have was the ability to survive and the determination to overcome incredible obstacles. This was a legacy of the freedom they possessed and the ethical standards made possible by that freedom. Yes, they were strong, resilient and committed to their families; but they were also free during a period of history when the world was moving toward fascism. They saw this trend and decided they wanted no part of it. They did not want to live as slaves.

Certainly, one could say, in a sense, that they were optimistic about the future, they had many of the traits of their ancestors and they certainly hoped for a better day. But to say that their optimism was their critical character trait is to focus only on one aspect among many that made up the American psyche.

The implication of the President’s statement is that no other characteristic of the American psyche is responsible for those successes. The President, and many others, would have you believe that it was because Americans were collectively minded, that they sacrificed for others and fought to save their communities – these were the goals Americans sought – stronger communities.

But, here’s the problem of thinking in non-essentials: if the President is going to be genuine, truly lead and inspire, he must identify the real fundamental principles that our forefathers held, not some Dale Carnegie course approximations. If the President wants to inspire people, he must deal in universal principles that ring true. The idea that “optimism” is what gave people the courage to win is false. Can you imagine a soldier heading into battle, with mortar shells going off all around him, saying to his buddy: “I’m going to kill those Germans because I’m optimistic about the future.”

Our grandparents succeeded because they were free thinkers, individualists, who refused to live as slaves. Individualism has many consequences. For instance, an individualist has the ability to think and speak as he deems fit. He can act and be goal-oriented. He has the freedom and the desire to succeed. Individualism releases a person to “be himself” so to speak and, in another respect, to create his own character and live a moral life. The individualist has a strong desire to be self-reliant and to keep the results of his work. In fact, the individualist does not like to be ruled, preached too, commanded or directed. The American individualist will fight when you threaten his freedom. And this is what helped Americans defeat the depression and the war.

But individualism is not the idea toward which the President is aiming. His goal is not to release you to defeat an enemy but to ensure that you vote for him; and toward this goal, he’d prefer that you have “optimism”, collective pride and a willingness to sacrifice. He’d prefer that you think in non-essentials because that is his only hope of keeping his job.

-to be continued

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