Self reliance, responsibility and Obama
When our newly seated President has to be the adult in the room and tell the American public to be more self-reliant and responsible (excerpts at the end of this post), it certainly makes one worry about how far the American public has fallen away from our core values. At the very least he appears to be walking the talk, taking responsibility for some poor cabinet nominations (or at the very least, some horrible background checks by his staff).
Recent events, especially hurricanes in my near vicinity, have brought to the forefront that Americans (or at least Texans!), when we have to, are quite self-reliant, and very good at helping thy neighbor. The image burned in many minds of Hurricane Katrina is the picture of people sitting on their suitcases outside the SuperDome awaiting Government rescue…quite the opposite of self-reliance. It may be a media perception of national media coverage versus local media, but those type of pictures were not evident in the Hurricane Ike disaster…though there were many of people helping each other.
The fact remains that many in our country took the President’s admonishment that we need to take care of ourselves as something new and revolutionary when in truth it is, as he says, part of the core principals our country was founded on. The scary part is that some people do appear to think “Wow! What a great idea! I should do for myself instead of waiting on old Uncle Sam!”. Echoes of the old Roman Empire indeed.
As better students of history have observed, President Obama is an excellent orator and his speechwriters are talented at giving him good foundations. His emphasis on self-reliance aims at multiple constituencies without singling any out:
- those of the lower middle class who normally rely on welfare, whom he would have pick themselves up by their own bootstraps instead of relying on the Government;
- those of the upper middle class, who are used to paying people to do everyday tasks for them and with the current financial crisis find themselves having to cut their own yards and wash their own cars;
- and everyone as a whole, as in ‘don’t expect your Government to fix this for you’.
There’s also a segment of the population that is now touting ‘the Law of Attraction’ (see The Secret) as something new. Again, this is simply a new coat of paint on self-reliance combined with the power of positive thinking. I’m sure that this group of Americans believes that President Obama is talking directly to them.
It will be more than a little interesting to see how this theme of self-reliance plays out with our President and our people as our economy recovers. And it certainly will recover, bloated stimulus package or not, as long-wave economic cycles seem to predict (see The New Prosperity by Jake Bernstein, written in 1989 as a nice statistical reference).
So will the theme of self-reliance dip to the wayside when the land of plenty makes its return? Most everything is cyclical, so probably so.
From President Obama’s inauguration speech:
For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of theupon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.
Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.