PAUL DUNN: Obama Should Use 'All Deliberate Speed'
Inauguration Day is Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009. By then, a large number of President-Elect Obama's planners will have taken necessary steps to achieve a smooth transition of power.
The task ahead for him and his administration is daunting. The natural temptation will be to tackle as many big problems as possible as quickly as possible, in part to satisfy an electorate that was promised a Christmas tree of political blessings.
With Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, there may be an inclination to replicate the first hundred days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal. Then a desperate America that had voted for change was willing to accept revolutionary "New Deal" ideas that were forthcoming from a formidable brain trust that often went outside the box of political orthodoxy for seemingly simply solutions to complex problems.
In 1933, the enemy was the Great Depression, which had almost destroyed the worldwide economic system. It would be a good 10 years and numerous court challenges before FDR's often-radical relief programs bore fruit. Most modern economists believe it was World War II that actually ended the Great Depression.
In 2009, identifying the "enemy" is far more complicated. Once again there's an economy in free fall. But even before the recent real estate collapse and simultaneous financial crash, there'd been ominous signs that the nation was on a downward path.
Our balance of payments had been out of kilter not for years but for decades. Insatiable personal and governmental appetites for "buying today and paying tomorrow" revealed an utter disrespect for the sound concepts of prudence and caution. The incursion of massive debt was the rule. Staggering defense budgets and massive war spending have made true Eisenhower's dire warning; America opted to become a vast "military and industrial complex."
The Keynesian economists of FDR's day rationalized that massive public spending when times were bad was acceptable, but only if surpluses would be added to the treasury when times were good. Under Alan Greenspan and Ronald Reagan's "Voodoo Economics" (extraordinary military spending coupled with substantial tax cuts), the first laws of Keynes 101 were thrown overboard and America must now pay the piper -- a staggering national debt of $10 trillion and growing.
The Bush administration's absurd concept that America could wage war in two faraway places without "war taxes" to pay for them was readily accepted.
The notion that American workers could compete against workers equally skilled but paid far less sounded good but was equally illogical. Globalization is not merely a term but a stark fact of competitive commerce, be it in agriculture, manufacturing or trade of all kinds.
Into this formidable morass President Obama will soon charge on his white horse. Unlike his warlike predecessor, he will not have guns blazing but will more likely have them holstered, if worn at all.
What would I recommend the young leader do? I'd suggest he follow the sound opinion language of the very wise Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who almost 100 years ago wrote, in Virginia v. West Virginia: "A question like the present should be disposed of without undue delay. But a state cannot be expected to move with the celerity of a private businessman; it is enough if it proceeds, in the language of the English Chancery, with "all deliberate speed."
If Obama's energies and political capital are initially expended to solve deep historic and emotional issues involving Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, China, Russia and our putative allies, then vital domestic concerns will only suffer. If he is urged to place the never-ending and exhausting Israeli-Palestinian question to the forefront of his agenda, again home-front issues will atrophy or surely suffer.
There is no doubt that his exceptional skills as an orator while wearing the mantle of the presidency can do much to inspire and raise America's stock in a pensive international community. But words are cheap and soon forgotten if positive and measurable results are not achieved. If he proceeds as his predecessor did by dividing the country along sharp partisan lines, his approval ratings can only plummet.
Former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski has offered this prediction: "I think he's going to change course, but that he will be cautious."
To be overcautious and seemingly undecided will be to some a sign of weakness. That is why the standard "with all deliberate speed" makes sense. It implies action based on careful deliberation, thinking before leaping. It also assumes that preconceived ideas and policies will be challenged and not merely acted upon with hubris and blind faith.
After eight years of the latter approach, it will be like a breath of fresh air to see reason and the public good transcend ideology.
Paul R. Dunn lives in Pinehurst and may be reached at email@example.com
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