10/22/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Calling Mr. Smith, Not Mr. Rogers

Alright Barack, you warned us that it would not be easy. You told us last year that entrenched interests would battle reform every step of the way when you got to Washington. Your campaign stirred the young and awoke those tired of more of the same. You invited us all to help create real change in America.

You will address a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night to deliver what may be the defining speech of your presidency.

We know you were handed a raw deal. The treasury was looted. Wars need to be settled. The political conversation and culture has been poisoned.

We understand that the forces resisting change are great. You swim in a sea surrounded by GOP leaders wielding long knives, national security operatives covering up their torture tracks, and big money interests who never want their big pay days to end.

The failed public conversation on health care has left the country confused and bewildered by purchased politicians, talk show bloviators, and town hall yahoos who dominate the airways.

Many admired your vow to overcome our toxic politics with a new bipartisanship. However laudable, we need political transformation more than nice talk. You should know by now that there is nary a partner across the aisle worth courting these days.

Please take a moment to hear the wise counsel of Bill Moyers, who helped LBJ fight for the Civil Rights Act and the birth of Medicare. He says this historic moment requires more fight than finesse, and that you better learn to lead like Teddy Roosevelt, or risk becoming the next Grover Cleveland:

Poor Obama. He came to town preaching the religion of nice. But every time he bows politely, the harder the Republicans kick him....No one's ever conquered Washington politics by constantly saying "pretty please" to the guys trying to cut your throat....This health care thing is make or break for your leadership, but for us, it's life and death. No more Mr. Nice Guy, Mr. President. We need a fighter.

In short, we need you to act like Mr. Smith -- not Mr. Rogers -- to represent us in Washington. We are starved for a leader who can express righteous indignation against the corrupt forces who have emptied the public purse while bidding for the powers that be.

I am afraid that your have surrounded yourself with too many old pros who know the ways of Washington politics, but not the way to political renewal. Rahm Emanuel might have the brass knuckle skills of a Chicago politician, but he and his ilk are toothless when seeking to appease Big Money.

This was meant to be our moment. Like you, I was born in 1961. Our generation has endured being ruled by rock-ribbed conservatives hell-bent on ramming through a radical agenda to reverse the social reforms and civilizing movements of the 1930s and 1960s.

The cycle has always been the same since our childhood. We got social rollback, imperial misadventures and political scandal from Nixon, Reagan and Bush. These excesses were twice followed by rather moderate and compromising presidencies (Carter and Clinton) that nibbled around the edges rather than deeply advancing the story of American progress.

You came to power with the promise, mandate and congressional majority to be a bridge from Lincoln and FDR, and avoid becoming the third sad act of The Compromised Presidency.

In Wednesday night's speech and the health care battle this fall, you will let us know if there is any hope of getting change we can believe in, rather than compromise we can die by.