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View From Here – Obama: In Deep Thought about Big Challenges

Much has been made of, and I think we are all very grateful for, the judgment and intelligence of President Barack Obama and he is certainly handling his job with a grace and ease that is comforting, but what the country needs now is more than that. Of that famous “check him out” game with Michelle Obama’s big brother Craig Robinson, Mr. Robinson reported to the Democratic Convention, “If you’re looking for a political analysis based on his playing, here it is: he’s confident but not cocky, he’ll take the shot if he’s open, he’s a team player who improves the people around him, and he won’t back down from any challenge.” Left unanswered is the question, Did he ever try to drive through to the hoop and take the hit from the 6 ‘6″ two-time Ivy League Player of the Year? Because that’s the Obama who has to get on the court now.

He has been thinking deeply about the various options available to him in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has listened to passionate voices on all sides and we can be sure he has reviewed several scenarios. But as a thoughtful man, he is surely doing his calculations in the context of the nation’s needs and what else is happening in the world.

In recent comments at the introduction of his “Education To Innovate” Campaign, the President made some observations which should send chills through anyone who is concerned about the future of the children of Brooklyn. He said, “You know, I was in Asia, I think many of you are aware, for a week, and I was having lunch with the President of South Korea, President Lee.  And I was interested in education policy — they’ve grown enormously over the last 40 years.  And I asked him, what are the biggest challenges in your education policy?  He said ‘the biggest challenge that I have is that my parents are too demanding.’  (Laughter)  He said, ‘even if somebody is dirt poor, they are insisting that their kids are getting the best education.’  He said, ‘I’ve had to import thousands of foreign teachers because they’re all insisting that Korean children have to learn English in elementary school.’  That was the biggest education challenge that he had, was an insistence, a demand from parents for excellence in the schools….And the same thing was true when I went to China.  I was talking to the Mayor of Shanghai, and I asked him about how he was doing recruiting teachers, given that they’ve got 25 million people in this one city.  He said, ‘We don’t have problems recruiting teachers because teaching is so revered and the pay scales for teachers are actually comparable to doctors and other professions.’”

As his education campaign opened the President said also that, “One assessment shows American 15-year-olds now rank 21st in science and 25th in math when compared to their peers around the world.”  In November 23rd remarks to his Cabinet regarding the spiraling unemployment rate, the President spoke of how businesses “have learned to produce the same amount of goods with fewer people.” And that presents “significant challenges in terms of us creating more jobs in this economy.”


And then, of course, he is thinking of the health care debate, where as the only industrial nation in the world without universal coverage, he has to face a health insurance industry that is fighting on all fronts to ensure its existence and prevent a “single-payer” program from happening.

As the President is looking at all of this while reading his briefing books in Air Force One, Marine One or in the limo they call “The Beast” and pondering, as he said to his Cabinet, that the keys to solving his domestic problems can be found in investing in “infrastructure and green technology”, he knows he just needs the money to do it and he knows these wars are costing $720 million dollars a day.

The Chinese, who are financing this whole venture by their willingness to purchase Treasury Notes, may have brought this to his attention in the President’s recent visit, just for assurance that their investment is safe, but not so much as to dissuade him from pursuing an inevitably weakening course.

So as the President looks at the various war scenarios, he will no doubt note the common elements of a loss of life and treasure to no certain end except that we know in the end, we will leave. Having called for the ball, this is where the President has to drive to the hoop and take the hit. He can define a concept around which to declare an early victory, perhaps in the demonstration that this nation will cause pain and destruction when we feel threatened, and having made that point, we can now bring all forces, including the private contractors, home in a quick-hurry, and the $720 million-dollars-a-day cost of these wars can then be spent on investing in the health and education of the core asset and strength of any nation, its people.

The President is well aware that it is critical that the United States return to these basics if we are to compete in a world that is changing as never before, at a computer-enabled pace. And as for the hit, he’ll be giving Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and that crew a push with their ratings. But that will only of interest until resources start flowing to state and local governments for projects that put people to work. After that, in this scenario, Obama will go into the next election looking like new money.





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