I gave fair warning to my readers that Barack Obama had no intention of really going to the political center to get himself, his party and the country through the next two years. In fact, Mr. Obama occupied the center for only about a nanosecond, long enough for him pause slightly as he glanced down to his teleprompter.
Nice try, Mr. President, but that won’t do the trick. Your opposition is unusually determined, at least so far, to bring some conservative principles to the solutions of our very troubled economic circumstances. Your problem is that you just don’t believe in any but left liberal principles, and your whole life so far has been to get your way.
Not this time. Not necessarily because your opponents are so strong, or always right, but because we’re in real trouble, and this does not just clear up because you raise a few taxes, bail out a few more industries, hire some more government workers to oversee the additional legislation you pass. That’s not the way it works in an economic crisis like this.
The problem is not only dollars and cents, deficits, taxes and jobs. The problem is systemic. We have created, Republicans and Democrats alike, a whole system that no longer can work. We must reform the whole system. I am not suggesting a return to the past which did have abuses, inequalities, inefficiencies and a lack of self-correcting mechanisms that would modify the system to keep up with changing times. There are new realities. New technologies. We can no longer operate certain industries. We can and must operate new industries and services. The nature of the work force has changed dramatically in the past 75 years. Child labor is illegal, laws rightfully protect workers and other citizens from dangers in the workplace, many more women are in that workplace and hold top executive jobs. Workers are living longer, and are able to work longer, thanks to extraordinary advances in health care. Education is more available, Demographics, transportation, virtually every aspect of the U.S. economy has changed.
We are now living, however, with what amounts to feudal systems and rules in our public education that is hopelessly mired in outdated principles, administrations, curricula, political correctness, inefficiency and inevitably, mediocrity.
The political center, whether Democratic or Republican, wants to change all of this, and as rapidly as possible. Those who want to keep and prolong these old systems are the reactionaries of today. They can call themselves leftists, rightists or whatever ideology, but they are not about true change.
Good teachers are as important as ever before. They are the backbone of a good public education system. We need effective public service workers in all areas of government service. The present system of unionized public service workers not only does not promote quality work, it is not economically sustainable. Mr. President, your job is to get behind the reform of the whole governmental system, the one that is not working. You promised change. Then support change and help advance it. When you defend the old, unworkable ways, you are doing the very opposite of what you promised you would do.
Being a genuine centrist is hard work. A centrist is not halfway in the middle, arguing for compromises that only prolong the failures of the past.
Most Americans are in the political center because the U.S. is the ultimate practical and creative democratic capitalist nation. The center is the true public interest.
A nanosecond of rhetoric will not do the job. We are seeing governors and legislatures across America trying to do the real job at hand. It’s time to take sides. It’s time to get things done.
Barry Casselman is a syndicated columnist who has been covering national politics since 1972. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.