Saturday, November 7, 2009

Letter to Barack Obama

I decided to send this letter to President Barack Obama via the White House website. Who knows? Maybe he'll actually read it.

A great political thinker once penned the following words:

"It is assumed that labor is available only in connection with capital; that nobody labors unless somebody else, owning capital, somehow by the use of it induces him to labor... Both these assumptions are false, and all inferences from them are groundless. Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration."

As a playwright, I can appreciate if and when words are especially significant, which is why I feel comfortable saying: President Obama, those are words to which you must listen.

As I am writing this, the severe suffering felt by millions of unemployed and underemployed Americans is worsening. Those of us who don't have jobs are finding it increasingly difficult to obtain them; those of us who are employed either struggle to make ends meet due to inadequate wages or live in constant fear that a pay cut or pink slip is just around the corner. Increased profit margins for Wall Street and Fortune 500 companies, though comforting to the acolytes of Ronald Reagan and the DLC, do nothing to put money in the bank accounts of average Americans; technocratic explanations about how unemployment is always a "lagging indicator" during a recovery, though met with approval by economists who earn their keep by hawking abstract theories, are met with scorn by Americans who have yet to find work. What this country needs is meaningful action. Anything and everything else is a waste of time and political capital that, quite frankly, you cannot afford to lose.

One such substantive action would be the passage of a strong Employee Free Choice Act. Although you admirably sponsored such legislation back when you were a Senator, and while you continue to fight for it as president, the kind of bill we need remains imperiled. In part this is due to a lack of attention from the media, which always emphasizes the sensational to the neglect of the substantial. A greater cause, though, is the ever-growing power of conservative Democrats who, in cahoots with Republicans, work to weaken and/or kill the EFCA bill, thereby increasing the profit margins of big business at the expense of the ability of the American working class to economically empower itself.

Another important measure would be to defy conventional wisdom (which these days is far more about "convention" than it is about anything wise) and push for a second stimulus bill. Rather than elaborate on the need for this myself, I will instead refer you to an article from Robert Reich, who succeeds in making the case for stimulus far better than I ever could:

Finally, you should deliver a nationally televised address to the American people. In trying times such as these, stating that rhetoric constitutes substantive action may seem counterintuitive, but until things pick up again, every American needs to know that their leaders are actually leading them. Right now we are a nation in despair, and despair - when able to gestate for too long - eventually becomes anger. The only way to counteract that despair is with hope. This is something that you can provide with a powerful speech that demonstrates your sympathy for the plight of average Americans, outlines what you plan on doing to help them, explains how those policies will work, and gives the American people a concrete idea of when those policies will begin directly effecting them.

The quote which I cited at the beginning of this letter has an addendum. In it, the author warned laborers to "beware of surrendering a political power which they already possess, and which if surrendered will surely be used to close the door of advancement against such as they, and to fix new disabilities and burdens upon them, till all of liberty shall be lost." And while today's Republicans, upon hearing those words, may think that they were written by Karl Marx or Vladimir Lenin, the reality is that they were composed by none other than the first Republican president himself - Abraham Lincoln. Even more significantly, he put them into his first State of the Union address, submitted to Congress at the same chronological point in his presidency that you will reach next month.

Like Lincoln, you are a liberal Illinoisan who has the fate of a nation resting in your hands. Like Lincoln, you have the power to not only dramatically improve the American nation in its present, but leave a lasting legacy of greatness for generations in the future to celebrate. The only question that remains is whether you will heed his advice, and in so doing follow in his footsteps.

1 comment:

Sean said...

Perhaps we should also try to collect enough comments in support of this letter and re-send it with a list of names to show solidarity.