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Presented January 4, 2009, by Rev. Dr. Rob Manning
Listen to a recording of "Hopes and Expectations for
27:27 minutes - 11.0 MB - Hopes and Expectations for 2009 .mp3 file.
The strongest bulwark of any government, and particularly of those constituted like ours, may effectively be broken down and destroyed -- I mean the attachment of the people.
At New Year's we talk about resolutions: quitting smoking, losing weight, etc, but this New year's is different. In a real way the New Year this time starts on Jan. 20th. Nothing really changes when the ball drops in New York City at midnight and we go from 2008 to 2009. it's really on January 20th that something will really happen, when the out with the old, in with the new will really take place.
Because the New year this time starts on January 20th we have a few weeks to prepare for it. A good thing for us to do before the new president takes office is to really think about 2009, not in terms of our own individual resolutions but in terms of what we would like to see happen in 2009. What would you like to see the Obama administration do in 2009? What would you hope it would do? What would you expect it to do? I think something very important for all of us in our democratic society to do is to really think about what we would hope this administration might do and what we expect the administration to do and to think the difference between these two categories, what we hope for and what we just expect.
Here's an example of what I mean by the difference between what we hope for and what we expect. We should not just hope for but we should expect that sometime during 2009 the Obama administration will close down Guatanamo Bay. Obama said during the campaign -- when he wasn't talking about Rev. Wright, or the flag pin, or whether he was black enough -- that he would close Guantanamo Bay. When he does that, should he just do it quietly or should he give a speech or hold a press conference where he explains his own view of how the Constitution applies to the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay? And what happens to the prisoners there? What should we do with those who are extremists and who would love to attack us? Should President Obama openly state that this is a problem we should all be concerned about and that it should be decided not just by a few people in the administration but that it should be a problem for all of us to discuss and to deal with in the light that our Constitution sheds for us all. Is this way of handling the problem, is this something we hope for, or is this something we expect?
And of course this leads inevitably to the torture issue. Is the Obama administration in 2009 going to reaffirm to the entire world our commitment to the Geneva Convention? Is he going to say to the entire world that we will not torture anyone we capture, nor will be play games with and distort the definition of torture to suit our own purposes? When he does so, is he going to articulate the importance of international agreements and our own Constiution? Is this something we hope for from the Obama administration, or something we expect?
How about the wonderful piece of legislation passed so hurriedly after September 11th commonly and unthinkingly referred to as the Patriot Act? We have elected a person who taught Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago. Is he going to declare to the country his own view of the Patriot Act, which elements of it he feels are an unconstitutional overreach of executive power? Is this something we hope for, or something we expect?
Speaking of "the Patriot Act," is Obama going to refuse the practice of using and abusing language for blatant political purposes? The abuse of language like the patriot act? Who could vote against the piece of legislation called the patriot act? Calling the inheritance tax the death tax is another offensive example. This misuse, abuse, and blatant distortion of language to serve your own purposes is especially offensive to me not only because I am a philosopher but because it was commonly practiced by the Nazi regime, and as a general rule of thumb I think we should pretty much not do things the Nazi regime did. Will the Obama administration point this out, explain why it distorts our democracy, and say that they won't do it? Is this something we should hope for, or something we should expect?
How about press conferences? There's nothing in the Constitution that mandates presidential press conferences, but it is a thoroughly democratic tradition that the Bush administration of course has largely abandoned and had distorted when they have had press conferences. Press conferences are a great way for the American people to compel the administration to explain and defend its policies, but not a great way for the administration to manufacture consent. Thirty second clips on the evening news of the president walking or looking strong and saying three sentences are much better for that. Is the Obama administration going to commit to having regular press conferences, where all the reporters are actual reporters and the questions are not scripted ahead of time? Are they going to abandon the practice pursued since the Reagan administration of basically saying to the press, if you want access to the administration you'd better be asking softball questions? Is this what we hope for from the new administration, or what we expect?
How about signing statements on bills, that questionable practice Clinton used 200 times and Bush has used more than 1000 times? Obama said during the campaign that he does not believe signing statements are Constitutional. Will he change his mind about that when he is the chief executive, or will he choose to educate us about the Constitution and how it has been violated recently by the executive branch? Do we hope for this to happen, or do we expect it to happen?
The Israel-Palestinian situation. Is the Obama administration not only going to support Israel but also support the Palestinian people and their need for a secure homeland? Is Obama going to frequently talk publicly about the suffering for generations now of the Palestinian people and how it needs to be resolved now, in 2009? I wonder what percentage of the American people even know the Palestinians are without a state and about the refugee camps? Is this something we hope for from the Obama administration or something we expect?
Afghanistan -- We are definitely going to be putting more soldiers in Afghanistan. Is the Obama administration going to clearly explain why this is necessary to the American people and clarify exactly why Afghanistan is so crucial in our battle against Muslim extremists. This is very important considering our country has been told for more than 5 years that Iraq is the central front in the war on terror. And in 2009 we will be suffering more casualties in Afghanistan than we did in the previous years -- the number has been going up every year, and 2009 will not break the trend. Will the Obama administration do what the Bush administration did all these years, pretend this really wasn't happening and avoid the subject, or will Obama talk publicly about the loss of our soldiers, perhaps even attend funerals, mourn with the families, lead by drawing our nation's attention to and not away from the terrible sacrifices of our military families. Is this something we hope for from Obama or something we expect from him? Will he encourage Americans to pay attention to what is happening in Afghanistan? Will he suggest books to read or documentaries to see so we can all understand the war in a more profound way and have a more informed discussion about it as a democracy? Is this something we hope the Obama administration will do or expect it will do?
Iraq -- for sure, we will be drawing down our troops, but what will happen within Iraqi society as we withdraw? Will he openly talk about the suffering of the Iraqi people even if his political advisors are telling him that if he does that he is just giving ammunition to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and the rest? Iraq could get worse in 2009 as we draw our forces out. It could get a lot worse. Do we hope that our new president will lead us all to be aware of, to think about, to mourn the suffering of Iraqis, or do we expect that he will do this?
And speaking of right-wing crazies on the radio and TV, will the Obama administration openly confront some of the irresponsible talk that happens on the airwaves? This president who talked from the very beginning about how there was no red America or blue America but the United States of America and how we have to come together in mutual respect despite our disagreements -- will he really get America to think about the hate filled poison over our airwaves, Ann Coulter, for example, joking about liberals being killed. Did you know that Rush Limbaugh for 3 months has been consistently calling our current economic troubles "the Obama Recession," which is just one example of how this discourse is produced with no regard for old fashioned things like truth, accuracy, fairness. Two years from now if our current economic problems persist a good number of people won't even remember that this all started under Bush. Perhaps Limbaugh's phrase "the Obama Recession" will stick just like his term feminazi. Will Obama try to get our citizens to think about the state of our democracy? Is this really the way we want to live as a democracy with Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly and all the rest free to say anything they want over the airwaves that makes them successful, popular and wealthy at the expense of what? The quality of our life as a democracy, our national conversation, our democratic discourse, our life with truth? Is this way we live now really better for our democracy than when we used to have laws requiring equal time for different points of view over the public airwaves? And raising this as an issue and really getting our fellow citizens to think about it and discuss it, is this something we hope the new administration will do, and do we expect the new administration to do it?
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