Thursday, October 09, 2008

A Time of Renewal

For Jews around the world, Yom Kippur falls at the end of a month of contemplating our sins during the year and then apologizing to each other, to ourselves, and (at least metaphorically) to God.

This is the time of year when I put down all the guilt I have about all the mistakes I make in my life. My load is light. I walk into a new year, unburdened by my past and facing the new year full of fresh potential. I'm always amazed at how strong I feel during these moments. My needs seem small. My ability to do for others is magnified.

This year, I think of JFK's famous line:

Ask not what your country can do for you--
Ask what you can do for your country."

--John F. Kennedy, 1961

* * *

In the first debate when Jim Lehrer asked the presidential candidates what they would have to give up in the face of economic crisis and the costly rescue plan, both candidates shied away from any real answer. Obama said something might have to be delayed. McCain said there were some cuts we could make that we should make anyway.

Neither candidate seemed to have the nerve to address the actual belt-tightening Americans are having to do--and the increases in that belt-tightening that are ahead of us.

Both candidates failed to understand that the call to sacrifice--if it is worded correctly--can signify both great strength as a leader and great respect for the citizens of the country.

We often think of America as a country of people who absolutely cannot accept a call for sacrifice. As Cheney crystallized, "The American way of life is non-negotiable!"

Perhaps there is some truth in this. Although he did not word it elegantly, sacrifice is exactly what Biden stated when he asked those with more than they need to be patriotic ...time to jump in, time to be part of the deal, time to help get America out of the rut." The Republicans and many Americans just seemed to laugh off these comments as yet another Biden gaffe.

But sacrifice and responsibility are words with deep resonance for almost all Americans.

Sacrifice for the greater good is at the core of Christianity, the religion of the majority of US citizens. Judaism does not orient itself around the concept of sacrifice, but both responsibility for the community and the healing of the world are central ideas to the faith. Almost all world religions teach some kind of similar lesson. And even for those of us who do not feel personally called by God to religion, we have grown up with the golden rule--and the heroic models of a generation who sacrificed during the Great Depression and the WWII era in order to give more to their country and their communities.

A member of that "greatest generation"spoke up during the town hall debate. She asked (via email): "Since World War II, we have never been asked to sacrifice anything to help our country, except the blood of our heroic men and women. As president, what sacrifices -- sacrifices will you ask every American to make to help restore the American dream and to get out of the economic morass that we're now in?"

McCain answered that he would "ask the American people to understand that there are some programs that we may have to eliminate,"mostly those that are not working anyway.

But Obama, finally, started channeling JFK. Here is his answer:
You know, a lot of you remember the tragedy of 9/11 and where you were on that day and, you know, how all of the country was ready to come together and make enormous changes to make us not only safer, but to make us a better country and a more unified country.

And President Bush did some smart things at the outset, but one of the opportunities that was missed was, when he spoke to the American people, he said, "Go out and shop."

That wasn't the kind of call to service that I think the American people were looking for.

And so it's important to understand that the -- I think the American people are hungry for the kind of leadership that is going to tackle these problems not just in government, but outside of government.
Obama did not stop there.
And let's take the example of energy, which we already spoke about. There is going to be the need for each and every one of us to start thinking about how we use energy.

I believe in the need for increased oil production. We're going to have to explore new ways to get more oil, and that includes offshore drilling. It includes telling the oil companies, that currently have 68 million acres that they're not using, that either you use them or you lose them.

We're going to have to develop clean coal technology and safe ways to store nuclear energy.

But each and every one of us can start thinking about how can we save energy in our homes, in our buildings. And one of the things I want to do is make sure that we're providing incentives so that you can buy a fuel efficient car that's made right here in the United States of America, not in Japan or South Korea, making sure that you are able to weatherize your home or make your business more fuel efficient.

And that's going to require effort from each and every one of us.
I have my doubts about drilling and so-called clean coal and the like--but he's saying something here in a very public forum that is seldom expressed these days. Although he's talked a bit about conservation in his written materials and in his campaign stops on the response to the developing energy crisis. I am thrilled to see him do at least a bit of Carter-"put-on-a-sweater"-channeling here.

Obama was not finished.
I think the young people of America are especially interested in how they can serve, and that's one of the reasons why I'm interested in doubling the Peace Corps, making sure that we are creating a volunteer corps all across this country that can be involved in their community, involved in military service, so that military families and our troops are not the only ones bearing the burden of renewing America.

That's something that all of us have to be involved with and that requires some leadership from Washington.
Hear, hear!


Mouse said...

I have to admit that the answer to that question by Senator Obama was worth watching the whole debate for.

teabird said...

Everything you said, and more -- I do wish that Biden hadn't pulled back from saying that it's patriotic to pay taxes.

We are in a (damned wrong) war, and we are in an economic crisis. There should be no cap on who pays Social Security tax, for example - but there should be a floor, below which you don't have to pay. Cutting taxes during a war is historically Not Done.

Patriotism is expensive. It's time we started to sacrifice, both by
conserving (bless you, Jimmy Carter) and paying our fair share, whatever that happens to be in our financial stratum.

Sorry to get so windy, but this is one of those topics that inspires me to rant...

Shana tovah.


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