The Politics of Hope

Every true leader in a democratic society knows that you can only lead by hope, inspiration and example. The use of fear, reproach and guilt are the tools of despots and totalitarians. In a democracy those who stoop to fear are usually short timers or Speaker of the House.

Those who do not have experience in leadership often succumb to their own fears and broadcast those fears in the form of despair and deepening crises.

Enter Barack Obama.

As a candidate for President he talked incessantly about hope and change — never defining either — but focused just as incessantly on a rapidly deteriorating economy. It was his campaign’s raison d’être — only he could save us from the excesses of George Bush and the Democrat Congress. And the voters bought it. Obama was elected, not on the issue of the war in Iraq as the Far Left would have us believe, but rather on a souring economy and a disgust that President Bush failed to warn about, act on, or solve the economic crises.

The economic crisis was created by a manipulation of the housing market. It started with Democrats in Congress insisting that the nation’s financial institutions lend money to persons who could not and would not repay it. This alone should have triggered concern in the national government but since the Democrats had triggered it, any investigation by the Congress was quashed and the Bush administration was so pre-occupied with the war in Iraq that it neither wanted the distraction of a fight with Congress or the alienation of desperately needed support for continuation of the war.

The availability of this money through subprime mortgages and other financial manipulations accelerated the demand for homes which in turn drove a rapid increase in home prices — far beyond the historic growth in value and this, again, should have triggered concern in the government — especially since it followed so closely a similar rapid and unwarranted acceleration in the industry during the Clinton years followed by a resulting catastrophic collapse. Again silence from the Bush Administration and the Democrat Congress.

But the greatest fault may well lie with the spurious financial instruments created by packaging loans and marketing them as securities, derivatives and other instruments that allowed the stacking and leveraging of specious securities to make a bad situation even worse. This stacking was the proverbially “house of cards” that collapsed almost immediately upon disclosure. The suppression of an investigation into Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac at the behest of Congressional Democrats and a failure of the Bush Administration’s Security Exchange Commission to ask hard questions was the moral equivalent of throwing kerosene on a burning house.

Okay, we all know that President Obama is not to blame for the current crisis, but that does not mean he is without blame. As a junior senator from Illinois he participated with his Democrat colleagues in demanding loans to those who could not and would not repay them and in suppressing investigation of the mortgage practices of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

But the important thing here — the important thing for demonstration of leadership — is not who is to blame but what are you going to do about the current situation. Obama knew full well what he was getting into. He ran on a platform that highlighted it. His party reveled in every sign of a worsening crisis as an omen of their eventual electoral success.

It’s not like this is that hand Obama was dealt, it is more like the hand he reached out and grabbed. And since he grabbed the hand, a compliant Congress has given him everything that he has asked for in record time — doling out over $2 Trillion in a bacchanalian frenzy of spending and political payoffs for past loyalty.

And yet, with the exception of his inaugural address, all we have heard from Obama is doom and gloom. That the nation is on the verge of a catastrophe from which it may never recover. That the crises is so great, so critical, so overwhelming that we must act without thinking, we must accept each and every proposal from Obama and his administration as the only choice. And that the country has suffered, is suffering, and will suffer for the foreseeable future. Obama’s rhetoric is not that of the nation’s great leaders but rather that of one of its most miserable presidents — Jimmy Carter and his national malaise.

Compare Obama’s dire warnings of impending catastrophe with those of previous leaders:

“. . . It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

“. . . This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself””nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s inaugural speech

“So it is not surprising that some would have us stay where we are a little longer to rest, to wait. But this city of Houston, this state of Texas, this country of the United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward–and so will space.

* * *

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

John F. Kennedy’s Speech on the Frontiers of Space

” . . . If we look to the answer as to why, for so many years, we achieved so much, prospered as no other people on Earth, it was because here, in this land, we unleashed the energy and individual genius of man to a greater extent than has ever been done before. Freedom and the dignity of the individual have been more available and assured here than in any other place on Earth. The price for this freedom at times has been high, but we have never been unwilling to pay that price. It is no coincidence that our present troubles parallel and are proportionate to the intervention and intrusion in our lives that result from unnecessary and excessive growth of government. It is time for us to realize that we are too great a nation to limit ourselves to small dreams. We are not, as some would have us believe, doomed to an inevitable decline. I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing. So, with all the creative energy at our command, let us begin an era of national renewal. Let us renew our determination, our courage, and our strength. And let us renew our faith and our hope. We have every right to dream heroic dreams. Those who say that we are in a time when there are no heroes just don’t know where to look. You can see heroes every day going in and out of factory gates. Others, a handful in number, produce enough food to feed all of us and then the world beyond. You meet heroes across a counter””and they are on both sides of that counter. There are entrepreneurs with faith in themselves and faith in an idea who create new jobs, new wealth and opportunity. They are individuals and families whose taxes support the Government and whose voluntary gifts support church, charity, culture, art, and education. Their patriotism is quiet but deep. Their values sustain our national life.

Ronald Reagan’s Inaugural Speech

And finally, the most telling quote of all:

“I hope I have appealed to your greatest hopes and not your worst fears.”

Ronald Reagan’s Farewell Speech

This column is written before President Obama’s speech on the economy scheduled for Tuesday evening. I am not surprised by Obama’s conduct thus far since he has never had leadership experience prior to being elected president. However, it is my hope that he will learn quickly and stop seeking to fix blame and commence leading by hope, optimism and example.