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Lines in the Sand: The Subtle Significance of a Presidential Visit

03/23/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

President Obama recently revealed his foreclosure relief plan in a speech given at Dobson High School in Mesa, Arizona. The choice of locations was auspicious for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that Mesa sits in the sprawling outskirts of Phoenix and is characteristic of the type of community that is ground zero in the housing crisis.

By deciding to give this speech here in Arizona, the President was acknowledging the central role of this "growth state" in the larger workings of the economy. In a place where real estate speculation and over-development have been rampant, we are now bearing the brunt of market forces that have contributed to the bottom falling out of home values. Indeed, people living here have been acutely aware that the boom was bound to bust, and that the Phoenix megalopolis in particular has become inherently unsustainable. But in a locale where having a Circle K on every corner is what passes for urban planning, the people calling the shots at the state capitol didn't really seem to care all that much. Now, it would seem that reality finally has caught up with our realty.

Arizona certainly isn't alone in confronting this eventuality. We do, however, find ourselves in the unenviable situation of having the Republican-controlled state legislature attempt to utilize the financial crisis to dismantle our already-underfunded and ailing public infrastructure. Programs in areas such as education, health care, and social services have seen unprecedented cuts to the point of de facto annihilation, undermining the ability of families and children in particular to sustain themselves in many instances. To make matters worse, our former Democratic governor resigned to take a post in Obama's cabinet, leaving behind a new Republican governor to sign off on the legislature's ideologically-driven onslaught.

So, with the Arizona Legislature essentially gutting public systems, it is doubly significant that the President came here and spoke about the challenges attendant to being able to "build our lives, raise our families, and plant roots in our communities," and that he made explicit mention of "our common values" and "our collective responsibilities." Equally powerful is that he asked us to consider the interconnected nature of the problems we presently face, the ways in which our lives and fortunes are intertwined with our neighbors', and how a dollar wisely spent today could save us more in the future:

[B]y making these investments in foreclosure-prevention today, we will save ourselves the costs of foreclosure tomorrow -- costs borne not just by families with troubled loans, but by their neighbors and communities and by our economy as a whole. Given the magnitude of these costs, it is a price well worth paying.

While it remains to be seen whether the President's plan has the effect of stemming the tide of foreclosures, it certainly represents a sharp break from the inaction of the previous Administration, and could serve as a wake-up call about the shortsighted "slash and burn" policies being implemented here at the state level. President Obama came to Arizona to announce a relief plan, but he also announced simply by his presence that he's aware of our plight, and that perhaps he won't sit idly by as we struggle to prevent the legislature from foreclosing on our future.