"It's about picking a president who relies not just on words, but on work,
hard work, to get America back to work," Clinton said at a labor rally here.
"Someone who's not just in the speeches business."
I think there is a concept we may have forgotten over the past decade or so. It's an important one. It's not Hillary Clinton's fault, this collective amnesia. She appears to have succumbed to it also, but let's not fault her for that. We're all breathing the fumes, and we all have to one extent or another slipped into this fugue.
Here it is: The president does not do all the work. The president does not make all the decisions.
Our president is our leader, but our president is not our king, and our president is not our boss. Our president is our servant. Let's all remember that.
Our servant. Chosen by us. And as such, our president reflects. . . us.
Because there are so many of us, that gives the office of the Presidency great power, but let's not forget that it is our power. If anything, the president at his or her best should be the conduit for our own power, directing policy that reflects as much as possible our values and needs collectively, managing at a very high level those operations which forward those values and meet those needs, while providing us the vision and focus and opportunity to do good and meaningful work, and the inspiration to do hard and necessary things. But while the President of the United States is our nominative leader, let's remember he or she does not do all the work, nor make every decision, whatever The Decider may think.
Today, right now, our president is letting us know that if we don’t retroactively give immunity to the phone companies who helped him break the law, then it will undermine the security of the country, by making other corporations less likely to help him and future presidents break other laws. All in the name of keeping us safe.
The law that was broken is called FISA. It provides for warrants for wiretaps, and it was created as a reaction to the presidency of Richard Nixon. Nixon was driven from office because of a cover-up dealing with . . . warrantless wiretaps. That’s what this president has been doing in secret countless times, perhaps from as early as June 2001 (edited from 2000, thank you rainbow). He didn’t move to get legislation that retroactively makes this legal until it was brought kicking and screaming to light by the press, and even now this president holds that he has the right to break this law with impunity whenever he wants, as part of his executive privilege. With or without legislation.
This president clearly believes that he is above our laws. He doesn’t think he’s our servant, that’s for sure.
So what does that have to do with the quote above? Just this:
Hillary Clinton (who I'm not trying to bash) is doing a politically saavy thing. Barack Obama's speeches have been electrifying voters from Maine to Washington, and she just doesn't have that arrow in her quiver. So she's attacking him at his strength. She's trying to win, and I don't really fault her for that. Of course she's trying to win. John McCain (who I'm not trying to bash) will try to win, too, and if he's smart (and he is) he'll attack there as well. Oh wait, he already has. He knows that if he's up against Obama, than Obama will absolutely be destroying him when it comes to the spoken word. So there is a need to undercut the spoken word.
I think over the coming months, we'll often hear quotes like the one above, attempting to reduce Senator Obama to nothing but rhetoric and pretty speeches. They'll make it sound as if he just sprang from the head of Zeus nine months ago, fully formed. He's never done a lick of work in his life! He's nothing but some vocal cords, a tongue, and a suit!
But even though it's probably fairly evident that I like the guy, my intent isn't to defend Obama, not really. I'm here to defend words from this charge of powerlessness, as though words were some kind of poor second cousin in the public sphere. Even if a presidential candidate is 'only' in the business of words, what of it? So, he's only in the business of communicating vision and identity to us? In other words, he's only doing the primary work of the president?
Let's not think that words are unimportant. Words can bring opposite sides to compromise. Words can move people to action. They can change how people see the world. Words are the only vessel that can truly hold an idea, and an idea is the most powerful thing in the world. We need a new and a better idea today.
Words. Just words? What are more powerful than words?
The next question, of course is: What are these words in service of? We've been led by words all this time, even when our communicators have been (ahem) less than skilled. Our vision has often in the past been lofty, and our identity has often been noble. Lately both have been small and mean, and this is tragic.
We have become a nation that tortures, and debates the fine points of what is and what is not cruel and inhuman.
We have for the first time attacked a nation that had not attacked us.
We've ceded habeas corpus to the executive branch.
We've sat by while our president argues for legislation that will not product a 'chilling effect' on a company's willingness to help him disregard the law and the Constitution.
We have become a nation that has traded our birthright of freedom for the cold porridge of fear.
And at the center of it is this idea of the President who does all. Every decision. All the work. All the time. You don't need to be involved. In fact, it's best that you're not involved. There are things you just shouldn't know about why we're tapping your telephone. The reason Barack Obama is inspiring people isn't simply the eloquence of his words or his skill with rhetoric. It's the content of his message. This is somebody who is bringing us a message we need. It's a message of our power returning to us from the Death Star that has become the White House. It’s a message of deliberation in our legislative process, a willingness to find common ground and compromise toward the general good.
The new idea that we need today is a clear vision of unity and resolve, communicated effectively. We need to take our freedom back. We need to stop seeing ourselves as a nation divided. We must insist on defending the rights that have been ever so slyly stripped from us, even if they do make us potentially vulnerable to attack. That is true resolve. We need vision that will cause us to stop in our tracks, turn around 180 degrees, and start walking back into the light. Let's reclaim these principles of freedom and liberty that our president seems to think endanger us so.
Whether we stay in Iraq for a decade or pull out in the next 12 months . . . let's start walking back toward the light.
Whether we raise or lower taxes . . . let's start walking back.
Whether we are conservative or liberal . . . let's start walking. Republican or Democrat . . . let's start walking.
McCain, Clinton, or Obama . . . let's start walking back toward the light.
Who will lead us as we turn? Whoever it is, they'll do it with words. With ideas.
And who do you think is most likely to do this? I suspect I have my answer, and so may you. We may even have different answers, and that’s just fine. But as you make your decision, don’t forget the president as public servant.
Not boss. Not king.
Yes, the president is the top executive office, so obviously a president needs to convey more to us than words. But the president isn't going to manage to make every decision, on every detail, on the creation of every plan to solve every problem. The president is, I hope, prepared to make large, visionary, directional decisions, guided by fundamental principles, and then convince, cajole, and inspire others to move in those directions. That's leadership. When the president just does what he wants because it's what he thinks is best, no matter what, that's dictatorship.
So, Obama is untested as an executive? I suppose. Perhaps he brings a higher mandate. Perhaps his words contain the vision, the idea, which hold his greatness. Perhaps he will manage to be the servant-leader that we need after a long winter of this would-be dictator.
What do we want from our presidents? Have we decided we want another Decider? Somebody who will manage us? Do we really want somebody who finds it expedient to break the law at will, and claim they don't have to tell us why, because he knows things that we can't know? Guess what: our president isn't our daddy either. I would love to see George W. Bush to write the word 'servant' on a chalkboard, once for every illegal wiretap of a U.S. Citizen, once for every soldier in Iraq, a thousand times for every infraction of habeas corpus.
But maybe we really do want somebody who can inspire us -- inspire us, not dictate to us -- to make and shape this country ourselves? Do we, or do we not, want to empower somebody who will actually use that power to empower us?
I don't really care if you vote for Barack Obama or John McCain or Hillary Clinton or Ron Paul or Dweezil Zappa. That's not entirely true, but as you vote, consider this. Experience is a wonderful thing, when well-applied, as is hard work, as is resolve, as is character.
But vision is not a small thing. It’s the main thing.
Happy voting this year.
I'm Julius_Goat, and I approved this message.
Picking up my rubber chicken and affixing my poker jester hat once again . . .