Obama’s clear break with the past

We’ve had to postpone so much over the last eight years that the inauguration day of Barack Obama and Joe Biden feels as if the nation has arisen from a near fatal coma.

We’ve postponed a mature response to global warming, postponed the cleanup of toxic air and poisoned water, postponed seeing to it that Americans are no longer the health care serfs of the developed world, postponed rebuilding our bridges, roads, levees, postponed honoring our wounded soldiers with first class health care, postponed the technological recreation of the American economy, postponed full speed ahead development of alternative and renewable fuels, postponed, if not abandoned, the creation of meaningful and well paying jobs at home, postponed the inspiration of America’s youth to service, study, and self-improvement, and postponed a productive, serious, and inclusive American discourse on the problems that face us.

We’ve endured so many egregious attacks on our liberties over the last eight years that the morbid miasma seemed filled with prophetic newsreel images of nightmares of the past reborn. We’ve endured machinations to create an authoritarian presidency, endured the potential loss of habeas corpus by executive fiat, endured warrantless searches and evasions of privacy, endured the specter of indefinite detention without trial, endured an economic system that lavishes fabulous wealth on the stupendously wealthy and pauperizes everyone else.

We’ve had to hold our noses and move through the poison gas of hate speech politics for eight long years with so much venom spilled that you’d think we were on the verge of a civil war.

And now, despite all the darkness of those eight seemingly endless years, we see a break in the smog of history, a clear moment in which civility, innovation, social responsibility and economic justice might just have a chance to arise anew. This break with the past, with the Roveian American Reich of a “permanent” Republican majority, is based on the liberation of open-minded, inclusive and, we pray, transparent leadership, and not the false strength induced by the propaganda of fear. And nothing could be more welcome.

It’s not that this inauguration heals the terrible grief so many older Americans still feel from the murders of JFK, Dr. King, and Bobby Kennedy. But there is a sense that we have somehow survived a terrible tangle of outrageous fortune –- from free market banditry and a presidential Caesar who stonewalled the Congress and the nation for almost a decade, to the eroding of America’s environmental stewardship, a perfect storm of pollution and chaotic weather, an inflamed terrorist threat and a bottomed out international reputation in which America, that once stood for fairness and human rights, was for a long bitter moment perceived as no better than the feudal keeper of a dungeon.

Our economic woes go far beyond the bilking of stockholders, depositors, taxpayers and legions of retirement investors. We allowed eight years to pass, eight years in which the world moved inexorably closer to a financially catastrophic peak oil downturn. And we did nothing to prepare ourselves for the monumental energy changes ahead. The combination of robber barons and a willful failure to read the hand writing on the wall, has created a situation in which newly minted financial regulation may try to prop up the old order just as it is collapsing into a low energy transition depression.

The notion of a presidency with no checks and balances, staunchly supported by Alexander Hamiliton in his idea of an “elected monarch” all the way down to Dick Cheney and his idea of a totally top secret executive branch, will linger in the minds of would-be American tyrants for decades. They saw how spineless the Congress was, how compliant the Supreme Court turned out to be, and how shockingly effective a simple “no” to all requests for disclosure and accountability is, even in the face of destructive and farcical malfeasance. An autocrat who learns from Bushian denial and refusal, and his total mastery of public relations and the media, could shred the Constitution.

But perhaps we shall see in the next four years amendments to Article II of the Constitution which governs the presidency.

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