Obama must succeed

The United States may be down, but the nation is not out for the count, according to President Barack Obama, who during his inaugural address invoked the examples of past American presidents to follow when battling adversity.

Obama appears to be an adherent of  the American philosopher George Santayana, who said in 1905, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

During the 44th president’s address in Washington, Obama outlined the many woes facing the world’s most powerful nation, but said the challenges facing the United States will be conquered by relying upon the faith and determination of the American people.

Indeed, Americans are resilient. They have steadfastly faced difficult challenges in the past and have emerged better for their experience. It is this trait that Canadians will have to rely upon for our own well-being in the wake of the meltdown in the U.S. We have no choice in the matter — our economy is heavily intertwined with that of the U.S. The U.S. may still need our oil and gas regardless of the economic climate, but the deep-seated loss of confidence felt by American consumers means they are less likely to buy goods manufactured in Canada, which our nation’s economy relies so heavily upon.

“Our challenges may be new,” said Obama. “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.” 

One force negating progress Obama will have to conquer is the legacy of President George W. Bush. Never in the modern era has an American president so crippled the very ideals that made America a leader in the world. Bush’s contributions to the downturn in American fortunes read like a litany of failure: a war that was unnecessary, a disregard for basic rights, America’s collapse as the go-to arbitrator of world affairs, and the creation of a sub-prime mortgage meltdown that toppled U.S. financial institutions and spread like a plague to other nations, becoming a global calamity. Bush’s errors have ensured that America’s role as the primary guarantor of world security and prosperity has been damaged to the point of virtual no return. 

But Obama’s ascendency to the top political position in the U.S. offers hope, something that was an elusive quality during the last years of the Bush administration.

The difficulty facing Obama may be beyond his rhetoric, but words can inspire a people beaten down by adversity, giving them hope they can rise to the challenge. It is not so much that Obama is the first biracial president of the U.S., as that he offers a fresh perspective that America can do better and still possesses the tools to “remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth ...

“Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began,” said Obama. “Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last year. Our capacity remains undiminished.”

This is the message the American people — and by extension the world — had to hear. Obama provides a reassurance that America can recover from the depths of despair.

And recover, it must. Loosely borrowing a portion of a well-known phrase found in the American Declaration of Independence, it is a truth that is self-evident. 

“Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans,” said Obama as the world listened in rapt attention. “Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.”

The burden placed upon the new president is onerous. The U.S.went from a budget surplus during the Clinton years to a deficit during the Bush administration that is  $1.2 trillion , which is equal to Canada’s entire gross domestic product  — all the goods and services produced in our country — and the U.S. debt amounts to $10.6 trillion, most of it owed to foreign countries such as China. 

Regardless of Obama’s new policies, the deficit and debt will continue under his tenure, especially since he has promised to introduce an $825-billion package to stimulate the U.S. economy. 

The expectations may be too high and he may not be able to immediately significantly change the circumstances that led to American fiscal disaster, but he has made the promise to try with vigourous enterprise while maintaining a vigil to prevent a re-emergence of the very factors that led it to disaster in the first place. Without directly naming him, Obama directly pointed to Bush policies as opening the Pandora’s box, releasing the illness that crippled the American dream and harmed the U.S.’s most vulnerable citizens. 

Obama said the question is not “whether the market is a force for good or evil. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control — and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favours only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.”

To Canadians, these words have a familiar ring. Although they were said by an American president, they could have just as easily been spoken in the past when Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson introduced federal legislation enacting universal health care. The belief in using the wealth of a nation for the “common good” of its citizens is by nature a Canadian concept. It should embolden us that Obama is now expounding the same concept south of the border. With such a man in power, it is possible that Canada’s political leaders can reach a mutual understanding that enables both nations to act in harmony for the “common good” of their respective citizens.  

Magnifying that which separates us, keeps us apart to our mutual detriment; while emphasizing our common goals, links us together, in turn strengthening and benefitting both our nations.