Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Reseeding the Commons

It's a new day. We are living in a country born again. All of us who voted for Obama in the expectation of sweeping change are finally getting a sip of the long expected cup of victory. The dragon of neo-liberal social and economic ideology had held sway for so long in the decades since Reagan promised that greed would set us free, that many thought it was the stagnant default setting of the American republic. That assumption has been set on its head, and the fierceness of anti-democratic, racist, bullying resistance to the health care reform legislation belies the sea change that has taken place in the space of a few days.

As Obama said, this was about doing what was right, not what was cynically expedient. Yes, the Democrats were up against the wall and strategically it was either sink or swim. But Obama proved he had the correct instincts and fought back and won. For once our leaders are acting the part and making us truly stand taller in the eyes of the world. Does anyone doubt the strategic importance of this week when it comes to battling real enemies convinced we are incapable of ever getting it right? If we can take care of our own here, and continue to stand up for the needy elsewhere, eg. Haiti, Palestine, etc., we will take the momentum back on the world stage that was lost when George Bush strutted the White House grounds.
Many would be critics of the package have pointed to concerns about our mounting deficit, despite projections of cost effectiveness over the long term. The fact is our economy has been tanking for many years, and one of the things that hobbles our businesses in competition with the rest of the world is a health care system that has been left entirely up to the private sector. This Obamacare reform may be the promised first plank in a restructuring of the American economy that will position us for continued leadership in the 21st century.

What is the next heavy lift? Many are pointing to immigration reform, and the fact that the Democrats will want to lock in the Latino vote before the mid-term elections. I think that Obama will take the high road and stick to his election pledges. Tackling climate change, packaged as a drive for energy independence, has the additional holistic advantage of being also about economic positioning and renovation. But there's no doubt the trenches are being dug. According to a U.S. News and World Report story, the Chamber of Commerce has lobbyists fanning out across the country speaking in motels and anywhere they can get an audience, giving the business spin on global warming -- it doesn't exist -- and the outlook for change from the perspective of Exxon Mobil-- cap and trade is a drag on growth. Why isn't there a similar grass roots campaign on behalf of meeting our responsibilities under Obama's Copenhagen pledge to cut CO2 emissions by 17 percent by 2012? When it comes to the likely suspects, Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, etc. up against the corporate lobby, it's worse than David vs. Goliath, because at least David was fighting fit and had the advantage of surprise on his side. The national environmental groups are part of the Beltway establishment and have little to no ability to mobilize grass roots support on climate change. We need to take up John Kerry's idea of national community service as a requirement akin to the military draft. Then we'd have an army of Americorps volunteers fanning out across the country to work for volunteer groups, non-profits, schools and municipalities, and the public good might stand a chance against the ideology that says that what's good for business and the bottom line is the only reality that counts.

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