Regardless of what's to blame -- the Iraq War, trade agreements, or the subprime meltdown -- our neglected domestic economy is in crisis. Repairing our image abroad, revisiting trade deals, and sorting out how to reduce our presence in Iraq all must be at the top of President-elect Barack Obama's 'to do' list. However, these have little to do with producing decent jobs for Americans, reconstructing flood devastated New Orleans and the Midwest, or with repairing bridges or building a durable energy infrastructure. On Day One, our forty-fourth president must forge a New Deal at home. President-elect Obama realizes this and is now advocating forcefully for a second economic stimulus package investing in a twenty-first century economic and social infrastructure.
In 1932, FDR took the helm to sort out the mess caused by the Roaring 20s. He used the government to solve food crisis and put in place a safety net for an increasing number of citizens falling through the widening cracks in the economy. He enlisted undercompensated and unemployed men and women as government workers to build dams and also to document our rich national heritage, filling schools, hospitals, and lighthouses with WPA murals.
Today, despite a spate of economic indicators not seen since the Great Depression and also a deep domestic economic anxiety, even our politicians do not seriously advise looking to government to solve our crisis on its own or even to take care of the fledging job market by putting citizens to work as decently-waged state employees on a large scale.
Americans generally are rightly wary of turning to government, seeing first-hand how the nation's vital needs have been ignored as a result of the earmark system which builds bridges to nowhere, the undue influence of Washington lobbyists, and also the indifference to their fellow citizens' struggles from New Orleans to the Appalachian Mountains. Like apple pie and rugged individualism, a view of government as problem-causer not solver is ingrained in our national ethos.
Since 1981, we have lived in a progressively unfolding bipartisan Reagan Revolution, put in play by 'The Gipper,' presided over by the two Bushes, and championed by Clinton who famously told us during the roaring '90s that the era of big government was over. President-elect Obama has invigorated a renewed faith in our government. At the same time, he generally focuses on a lean effective government that works with the private sector, not against it, to solve problems -- whenever possible favoring carrots to sticks, incentives.
While Washington must continue to change the way it does business, a sentiment in vogue even within the beltway itself, our twenty-first century New Deal must be more than the public hand that promotes the free market, what passes now as conventional wisdom. It must instead be attuned to our circumstances, bold in vision, realistically addressing problems. This does mean asking government to solve our nation's problems. But it also involves allowing our politicians to task entrepreneurs, citizens, and even bankers to work together effectively.
Although America is a young nation, we have pulled together many times to overcome seemingly overwhelming threats to not only our economy but to our basic way of life. Our boldest experiment with government-directed, citizen and entrepreneur-driven, problem solving was the Second World War.
The War was won by citizens who served bravely in uniform within the armed forces and also those who played vital roles at home. To serve the war effort, our entrepreneurs re-imagined their business purpose and operations, people like Henry Kaiser who injected innovation into ship-building swiftly producing Liberty Ships in record times. Our New Deal should be modeled on this WWII public-private partnership, not our beggar-they-neighbor privatization bargain where we advantage some while sowing distrust of each other in the name competition, efficiency, and security.