02/12/2009 06:37 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Obama: Safety First

This week, President Obama hits the road to sell a stimulus bill that he has already sold out.

Meanwhile, heroic Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenbeger and his crew are in New York receiving the key to the city for safely landing US Airways Flight 1549 in the middle of the Hudson River and will then be making the rounds of various talks shows.

"Safely." Heroics are great, but it's the safe part that accounts for the crew being greeted so joyously from the steps of City Hall to the set of Larry King Live. It's as if we all are safe, not just the 150 passengers on the flight.

And, therefore, even better, we are correct.

Because being safe has always been the primal societal belief that we like to live our collective lives upon in the U.S. of A. Even when we come upon a limitless number of events that suggest otherwise - salmonella peanuts, exploding Space Shuttle, Russia has the bomb - we look at these as anomalies that can be corrected if the right steps are taken - more inspections, better O-Rings, get to the moon.

More importantly, personal events - loss of a job, loss of health insurance, loss of pension - are anomalies as well. They can be solved by the individual if they have the necessary resolve.

The safety premise is essential because it's proof that our most prized belief of all is also true - that America is the land of opportunity and that everyone can, assuming they have enough pluck and bootstrap pulling determination, make it to the highest of tax brackets. I.E., there is nothing that can stop you.

Lately, however, the safety premise has been crumbling. Flight 1549 offers a brief propping up of the idea, but the celebration will soon be pushed off the front page by any one of dozens of bleak economic indicators. The AP headline of February 6, seemed anachronistic even as it hit the stands/web: "Hero pilot returning to NYC, getting key to city." February 6, 1951, not 2009.

And, as safety crumbles, with it goes the land of opportunity idea. But, there has been a pivotal bright side to all this: with every plant closing, non-union service job replacing it, or market plunge, events that formerly seemed to be the problems of the individual, have now become conflated with the events of society as a whole.

And, so, back to President Obama.

Getting his stimulus bill through Congress, he chose another sort of safe - playing it safe - i.e., bi-partisanship. We know he's a centrist. But in the past he didn't shrink from, at least, naming the truth. Now, he's skipping right over it. With the personal having merged with the collective, the truth might have been salable: Family planning is essential for the economic well-being of women and by extension everyone. Education is pivotal for the economic outlook for children, and by extension everyone. Tax cuts have not saved the economy in the past, or by extension, anyone.

Presumably, Obama will get and sign his compromise stimulus bill. A couple of weeks later he will likely invite the crew of flight 1549 to sit in the gallery to be honored during his non-State of the Union, State of the Union. But if Obama wants to be as much the hero as the flight 1549 crew, he shouldn't be playing it so safe.