The Speech President Obama Should Give…
(but never will…..#1)
—channeled by Jim Stiles––
It’s been more than two years since that remarkable frosty evening in November 2008 when you bestowed upon me the great honor and responsibility of becoming the 44th President of the United States. Throughout the weeks and months that preceded my election, I offered you “hope you can believe in.” I wanted you to believe in me as well. I wanted your trust and your confidence and I needed your strength and your courage to earn them.
Now, I have to tell you—things have not worked out as I’d planned or hoped. This is not the administration I wanted. And I have nobody to blame but myself. I’m not going to hang this on my friends in the Republican Party, nor those in my own. As Harry Truman said, “The buck stops here.” I came here to lead, but I’ve done nothing but wet my finger and hold it to the prevailing breeze to see which way it blows. That is not what you expected of me.
The heady optimism of January 2009 is gone. Cynicism reigns. The idea that I might be able to really lead this country and the world into a new and different kind of Future was lost, almost from the moment I took the oath of office. Hope requires candor and honesty and, my fellow Americans, almost from day one, I have exhibited neither. Candor is a liability these days; in fact, anything resembling the hard truth sends us politicians running to our pollsters and focus groups. I’m not even sure any of us knows what the word means. Being candid is not politically expedient and that’s about all we’re concerned with—that and raising piles of cash for our next election campaign.
The last American President who tried to level with us was Jimmy Carter, more than 30 years ago. On July 15, 1979, President Carter spoke to you from this office and was as honest with the citizens of this country as any president in our memories has ever been. Let me share some of that speech with you. President Carter noted that he had “been reminded again that all the legislation in the world can’t fix what’s wrong with America,” and he wanted to express his concern for what he called, “a fundamental threat to American democracy.”
Then he described that threat:
“It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our Nation.”
Most startling of all, in a world that even then seemed driven by the quest for material goods, President Carter had the guts to say that:
“In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.”
Can you imagine any of us, in this day and age, uttering such words? No way. Today his warning rings even truer. Yet no one dares to repeat them. Why? Politically, of course, it was suicide. For his boldness and vision, Jimmy Carter was attacked and condemned by both political parties. Yes, my party included. The press tagged his address to the nation, “The ‘Malaise’ Speech,” though not once did he even use the word, and 16 months later, President Carter lost his re-election bid to Ronald Reagan. No president has spoken so candidly since.
In a free market, his words meant disaster as well. President Carter asked for a more frugal and responsible America, a nation that conserves and uses our natural resources wisely, a nation that needs less and wants less. But that means a nation that also SPENDS less.
In America and in capitalist economies around the world, this cannot be allowed to happen.
Tonight, I want to tell you the truth about our economy. Then I am going to tell you the truth about our foreign policy. And finally I will give you the unvarnished reality, as I see it and feel it in my heart, about the environment. And when we’re done here, you’ll see that the three are inextricably linked. Finally, I want to offer you something different…an entirely new way of looking at our country and at ourselves.
Tonight, I start being honest. First, the economy.
There was a story in Rolling Stone Magazine last month. Its title was: “Why Isn’t Wall Street in Jail?” It noted that neither the Bush administration nor mine has done anything to punish the reckless Wall Street bankers who played so foolishly and recklessly with your money. The author had this to say about me:
“As for President Obama, what is there to be said? Goldman Sachs was his number-one private campaign contributor. He put a Citigroup executive in charge of his economic transition team, and he just named an executive of JP Morgan Chase, the proud owner of $7.7 million in Chase stock, his new chief of staff.”
Absolutely true. Guilty as charged. First of all, despite my best intentions to run a people’s campaign funded by small donations from millions of supporters, I believed I needed BIG money to get elected. I convinced myself, as every other politician does, that the end justified the means. I knew it was a lie, but I did it anyway. I counted on you to believe the lie and to also believe that I was still a better choice than my opponent.
So first there was all that campaign money. Okay, now it gets a bit more complex, though it may not feel like it at first. I know how so many of you loathe the wealthy—the big banker CEOs and the venture capitalists—and usually that means focusing on the huge bonuses these guys give themselves, or the palaces they reside in, or maybe their expensive cars and their opulent lifestyles. And it’s easy to concentrate on these images—it makes for great TV and online pictorials.
But that’s the window dressing. That’s the sexy part of the tale. That’s the ‘little’ sin happening here, relatively speaking. You see, the reason all of us keep turning to these people is simple–they’ve convinced all of us, me included, that in order to maintain a robust economy that continues to generate high-paying jobs, we must keep GROWING that economy. But we can only grow it sufficiently if we all keep buying more and more products and services and getting deeper and deeper in debt. You and me. Everybody.
Despite all the admonitions of our parents to be careful with our money and to always put something away for a rainy day, today’s reality is quite different. What this insane world economy demands is that you keep running up your credit card bill, keep buying homes and cars you cannot afford, keep living beyond your means.
You see, if for example you decide you don’t really need a fifth flat screen TV for your sixth bed room, that decision eventually puts the salespersons out of a job at Wal-Mart or Best Buy or wherever it is you shop. Then the truckers who ship the product to the store from the port and even the sailors who haul all these products from Asia lose their jobs. And all the bookkeepers and accountants and tracking analysts…they’ll be out of work. Of course, we hardly MAKE anything here; we lost that talent long ago. But your failure to buy that fifth TV has repercussions.
More critically, here in America, what if you decide to cut back on the services and amenities you’ve come to expect? After all, the service industry is really what keeps us going. Let’s say starting tomorrow you ate fewer of your meals out. Or you decided you can live without that expensive pinot noir you’ve become so fond of. What if you decided to give up your life coach and try to figure out the world on your own? Or let’s say you give up your dog walker and start running with Rover yourself? Any of these decisions would have repercussions. They would result in job loss and reduced revenues and would negatively impact our economy.
So the real reason why so many people are out of work these days is because many of us are not BORROWING enough money! When we say there is waning “confidence” in the economy, what we mean is that many of you are afraid to keep getting deeper into debt, in order to buy all the stuff that we must keep consuming. ‘Confidence’ is just a euphemism for foolhardiness. We want you to gamble with your money. We NEED you to do that. It’s insane. It’s a house of cards. This is how we got into this mess and it’s this kind of logic that’s soon going to lead us over a very steep cliff.
But what if we ALL decided we simply didn’t need SO MUCH of these products and services? What if we realized that we could simply live with less? And even better—what if we realized we LIKED living with less?
My fellow Americans, we simply cannot continue to live like this. We embarrass ourselves to the world with our conspicuous riches. Our greed isn’t some entitlement handed down to all Americans by God. Go read your Bible, the New Testament. A Catholic nun once explained Christianity to me in a nutshell. To understand the Bible, she said, “All you need to know is the Sermon on the Mount.’ She said, ‘Always help people who have less than you and don’t hit anybody. That’s all you really need to remember.’
I thought that was pretty good advice. To become a better nation, we must start thinking more of others and less about ourselves. We must end our obsession with material wealth. We must decide what is truly important, and how we measure our “worth.” Let me turn to some words from the man who might have really been able to change the world 40 years ago, whose life was cut short by an assassin’s bullets. Just a few weeks before his death, Robert Kennedy said this about our “worth,” as most of us would define it—the Gross National Product:
“Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product … if we should judge America by that – counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warhead, and armored cars for police who fight riots in our streets. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.
“Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.”
Think about those words as you consider your priorities.
I spoke earlier of the Catholic nun’s interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount…of ‘not hitting anybody.’ In May, we ‘hit’ the biggest criminal/terrorist of our time—Osama bin laden. He was responsible for the death and misery of thousands of people, both here in America and around the World. I have no regrets that I gave the order to end his life. Still it is important and, indeed, painful to recall—and to remind you—that we once supported bin Laden and the Moujhadjadin in the 1980s. We provided billions of dollars in armaments and materiel to the rebels as they fought to drive their Soviet invaders from Afghanistan. It was in the “interests of the United States” to support the revolt. Surely our history with this one man should be enough to make us reevaluate our understanding of what is and what is not in our “interests.”
But, you see, I’m already being dishonest. I DO regret that I sent out a kill order to the Navy Seals. We should have captured bin Laden, brought him back to the United States and let him stand trial for the murder of 2,974 Americans. That’s what we did with Saddam Hussein. It’s even what we did with the Nazi war criminals. But it was politically advantageous to kill bin Laden in his home, dump his body in the sea and be done with it. Americans love their cowboys and I played right into the role. After all, next year is an election year. And we wonder why most of the world hates us.
Look at what we do. Why does the United States have armed forces all around the planet? Why do we feel the need, much less the right, to impose our will in the Middle East? And Korea? And Japan? And Europe? And Asia? Why? How would we like it if the Saudis had air bases in Iowa? You know this brouhaha we had recently in Wisconsin? How would we feel if Vladimir Putin and his Russians came in and settled it for us? I don’t think anybody in this country, from the Far Right to the Far Left, would be pleased. Yet, for the last 65 years, that is EXACTLY what this country has done to the rest of the world. President Truman got us into the Korean mess; Eisenhower supported CIA overthrows of democratically elected governments in Iran and Guatemala, and numerous other incursions around the globe. Yet, as his administration drew to a close, he saw where our recklessness was leading and warned this country. John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson drew us into Vietnam. Again and again, we’ve acted as if the world is ours to conquer and control. It is Manifest destiny gone global.
Well, my fellow Americans, it’s time for this global hegemony to end. First, it’s wrong. Whatever our “national interests” might be, we do not have the right to intervene in the internal affairs of other countries. The policy of pre-emptive war must end. And besides, right or wrong, we simply cannot afford to be the world’s police.
So, enough of this. Tomorrow morning I will meet with the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the leaders of both parties in Congress. At that time I will set forth a plan to initiate the withdrawal of the vast majority of our overseas military commitments. At long last, the Iraqi and Afghan and Libyan Wars are OVER. We would not tolerate their military presence here; why should we expect them to tolerate ours there? So we are out of there.
This will, of course, delight my liberal friends and infuriate the conservatives. But let me propose something that will help balance the outrage. Calls from my own party to strip the military budget have been a major part of the ongoing budget crisis talks. Their points are well-taken. I also acknowledge that to retire millions of American service men and women will have a devastating effect on our economy. So I propose this: as we shut down overseas military operations, those personnel will be transferred to domestic assignments stateside. For the immediate future, we will NOT close any bases stateside and we will set out to re-define the mission of our military. We have an opportunity for our service men and women to really help their fellow countrymen. In natural disasters, in nationwide service projects—yes, even to augment the protection of our borders. We will put this great pool of talent to great use, with rewards we cannot even yet imagine. And by removing vast numbers of our overseas forces, the savings to our national budget will be enormous.
Our civilian economy also depends on the employment of almost 5 million Americans in the defense industry. These hard working skilled citizens build everything from uniforms to tanks to fighter jets to aircraft carriers. It’s time we re-direct those skills to a task from which we can all benefit. Many of you have lamented the end of our manned space program, at least for now, with the final flight of our shuttle, Atlantis. Again, I bear much of the responsibility for this decision. Let me reverse myself. Today I am re-activating the shuttle; John Glenn is right. Our shuttle fleet still has many good years ahead and there is no point in sticking them in a museum. And I am ordering a full-scale re-examination of our manned space priorities with the goal of putting humans on the planet Mars by 2022. It’s time we started dreaming BIG again. And it’s time we recognized this “final frontier” as something more than a future tourist destination for rich people and a place to exploit natural resources.
For those of you who believe this is folly, that our problems are too great here on Earth to spend money exploring the black void of outer space, let me remind you what John Kennedy said:
“We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own…Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, ‘Because it is there.’ Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.”
Like President Kennedy before me, I believe it is time we began to think and dream beyond the confines of our own lives. To dream, as Robert Kennedy once said, “of things that never were, and say, ‘Why not?’” We can do this and much more.
Right now, our men and women aboard the International Space Station can look down upon this beautiful blue watery globe, this place we call Earth. What a beautiful planet we live on. What a gift. It’s our home and it is all we have; the survival of our home depends on the way we, the tenants, treat it. And yet, even from a height of more than 250 miles, our astronauts and cosmonauts can see the damage we humans have inflicted upon our home.
I’ve talked to you about our economy, about our excesses as a species. I’ve spoken of our vast military presence around the world and the imposition of our will on the other 7 billion humans that live here. But if we connect all the dots, it all leads “back to the future,” the future of this tiny blue planet; ultimately this is what this conversation is about. It’s about ALL of us and every living creature. We live on the threshold of catastrophe, my fellow Americans. We must act now.
The evidence is irrefutable. Climate change is real. It’s happening much faster than even our best scientists expected. Still many Americans reject the science and cling stubbornly to the notion that we can continue to live this gluttonous lifestyle that has already inflicted so much harm. Even I have turned my back on the science. A few years ago, during the 2008 primary season, I was vocal about my concerns. I said then that we must “lead by example.” I also said, “We can’t drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times … and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK…That’s not leadership. That’s not going to happen,”
But it did happen. I got spooked by a bad economy and rising unemployment and, worst of all, political considerations, and decided to put the biggest issue ever to face the human race on a back burner. But what’s the point of having good jobs if we don’t have a decent planet to work in? Why sweat banking reform or gay rights or debt ceilings or balanced budgets or overseas wars or predator drones if we are collectively, albeit slowly, killing ourselves?
Two years ago I noted, “The issue of climate change is one that we ignore at our own peril. There may still be disputes about exactly how much we’re contributing to the warming of the earth’s atmosphere and how much is naturally occurring, but what we can be scientifically certain of is that our continued use of fossil fuels is pushing us to a point of no return. And unless we free ourselves from a dependence on these fossil fuels and chart a new course on energy in this country, we are condemning future generations to global catastrophe.”
But since then, I’ve practically walked away from the issue. My performance at the Copenhagen Summit was an embarrassment to me. It’s time I lived up to what I know is the Truth. And let me say this: anyone who believes Climate Change is a hoax—well, my fellow Americans, those people are either greedy to the point of being delusional or just hiding their head in the sand.
So where do we go from here? This is ‘honest speech’ number one. Others will follow soon. But I realize I can talk too long and lose you in the process. So let’s make this a starting point. We all need to re-examine our own lives and look closely at the things we treasure most. We need to ask ourselves just how much “stuff” we need to make us happy. If we set aside all the superfluities of life, just what would we need to feel enriched and satisfied? Could we see our Gross Domestic Product shrink and feel better for it? And, finally, are we willing to do what it takes to save this jewel of a planet? This extraordinary gift? These are questions for us all.
Finally, for any of this to matter, you must believe I am not speaking as a politician, running for re-election. And yet, so little time remains in this administration and I have squandered much of it. So here is what I propose:
I will stand for re-election. But do NOT expect this to be the “feel good” rhetorician’s dream campaign of 2008. This is a wake up call, America—for you and for me. It will not be a campaign where I tell you everything will be fine. Honestly, I don’t know if we can change the world or not. But our only hope of saving this planet, and us in the process, is to start telling the Truth. If you re-elect me and I fail you again, I will resign the Presidency on the second anniversary of my second inauguration. I want to succeed. I want us to succeed. Together, with hard work, with dedication to the ideals we once held dear, we can finally try to ‘make a difference.’
I only hope and pray that it’s not too late.
To view this article as a PDF, click here: aug11-20-21
and here: aug11-22-23
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