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A Birthday Message for President Obama

August 4, 2010

Dear Mr. President,

I send you greetings on your 49th birthday. I can remember being 49, and it was a very good year. But I was still relatively carefree and unencumbered by anything more urgent than finding the right words for my essays. By contrast, you’re literally carrying the weight of the world on those relatively slim shoulders of yours.

You carry your burden with grace and good humor. We almost never see you whine or grumble or lose your cool — with the exception of the time you ordered the nincompoops in charge of managing the Gulf oil spill to “plug the damn hole!”

But that might be part of the problem. You deserve to get angry now and then. It might be that the American people even need you to get angry.  Not out-of-control angry, just assertively angry. As affable as you are (and despite your depressing poll numbers, the majority of Americans still like you personally), there seems to be a growing perception that you’re too aloof, too far removed from the problems and concerns of ordinary folks. So are most politicians, of course. But we elected you because we had faith that you were better and more sensitive than the hacks. We expected you to transcend politics as usual — a tall order, perhaps, but not an impossible one.

Don’t worry about playing into the unjust stereotype of the “angry black man.” As long as you’re angry on behalf of all the suffering Americans out here, we’ll understand.

You need to get angry on behalf of the millions who have lost their livelihoods in this ugly recession. (Getting angry will impel you to take direct action.) During a time of crisis, you can’t depend entirely on corporate America to create jobs, especially since corporate America has been recklessly outsourcing its jobs to developing nations. Corporations have a funny way of focusing on quarterly profits.

Your top priority must be to put Americans to work. If that means following FDR’s lead and establishing  job programs like the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps and Federal Writers Project, so be it. Your enemies on the right will call it socialism — but they’ve already branded you a socialist, so just grit your teeth and go with it. (Funny how they flung that barb at you when you rescued America’s bankrupt automakers and collapsing investment banks). 

Once Americans are gainfully employed and no longer quaking over the prospect of financial ruin, they’ll spend more freely — and ultimately American business will prosper. We can live with that kind of “socialism” — at least as a temporary remedy.

You also need to get angry on behalf of Americans who see their country threatened by mass incursions of illegal immigrants who break our laws and expect to be showered with social benefits. I know you prefer to think of them as “undocumented,” but soft euphemisms won’t change the hard reality.

I have to warn you that I’m alarmed at the intensity of hatred directed toward you over the immigration issue. Granted, much of the hatred emanates from right-wing extremists whose paranoia has been tweaked and inflamed by clever radio and TV pundits. But don’t believe for a moment that all your opponents on immigration are racist nutjobs who “cling to their guns and religion.”

The majority of Americans are simply asking you to stop making excuses for people who violate our laws. It shouldn’t matter what color the outlaws happen to be: lawbreakers are lawbreakers, and we shouldn’t be be giving them a free pass.

Yes, most of your opposition comes to you from the right: from angry, hardworking white people in a state of panic over wild nightmare scenarios involving big government and the loss of freedom. They’re terrified of losing their jobs, their homes, their status, their doctors, even their country — and yes, their guns and religion, too. I think you need to go out on a limb and assure them that you understand their fears. You need to convince them that you’re their president, too.

Of course, now you also have to worry about opposition from the left. You used to think of all those HuffingtonPost readers and NPR listeners as your base, but something has gone seriously awry on the left flank. You’ve been alienating the faithful lately, believe it or not.

Where to begin? You’ve been surprisingly cozy with Wall Street insiders and lobbyists (it probably doesn’t help that some of your closest advisors are former investment wizards). Then you used taxpayer dollars to help Goldman Sachs recoup 100% of its bad bets. Believe me, they don’t need the money.

You’ve turned hawkish on Afghanistan, too, when history and common sense tell us that nobody can win a conventional war against fanatical guerrilla fighters in that accursed land. We’re hoping you’ll just kick some choice Taliban butt for a year, then pull our troops out of harm’s way and divert the much-needed funds to causes that are closer to home.

I’m wondering how you’re holding up personally in the middle of the crossfire. When you can’t seem to please anyone, when you have to dodge bullets from all directions, when you’re never sure if you’re doing the right thing… then you know the existential and eternal agony of the true moderate. What is a moderate, after all, but a political misfit, a reluctant antagonizer, a conscientious ditherer with a disinclination for action? We’re the Hamlets of the political scene, too often paralyzed by our awareness that every opinion has validity even when it lacks merit.

But you have to believe me, Mr. President, that you can leverage your inner moderate to your advantage. Only someone with the courage to stand in the middle can see the full sweep of the landscape. You can use your centrally located perch to remind your countrymen that we’re not a random patchwork of special interests based on race, gender, politics, religion, language, sexual orientation or Internet browsing habits. We’re Americans, all of us, and we need to see ourselves as a single nation again.

If you can convince us of that solitary fact, you’ll have earned yourself a place in the pantheon of  immortals.

Happy birthday, long life to you, and better luck in the coming year!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Kathy Martin permalink
    August 4, 2010 10:01 pm

    Rick: You capture my feelings almost to a T!!! Great writing.

  2. montra-trimek--pig--thailand permalink
    July 31, 2013 5:45 am


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