THE BLOG
06/15/2010 08:39 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

President's Gulf Speech Is to his Presidency as Rev. Wright Speech Was to his Campaign

This president has been dealt extraordinary challenges, and extraordinary opportunities to rally the nation behind fundamental reforms. He has the rhetorical and inspirational skills to rally not just 'the base', but larger numbers of young, and not-so-young, people who saw multi-layers of transformational power in his presidency. As the first Earth Day showed, even craven politicians could be clubbed into submission by an active and aroused electorate -- 7 of the 12 first 'dirty-dozen' pro-polluter Congressmen were defeated in the first election following Earth Day, and pro-polluter president Richard Nixon was cowed into signing the key environmental laws (clean air, clean water, endangered species, marine mammal protection, and the creation of the EPA) of the post-World War II era.

When the rantings of his minister, Rev Wright, threatened his presidential campaign, candidate Barack Obama delivered one of the most stirring speeches in American political history. It was not only its substance, but the confidence it instilled that this man could instantly blunt and render impotent the most vile and vicious attacks on his character that provided real hope that an Obama Presidency could and would use that power to overcome the parochial intransigence of the elite.

Moreover, it showed that he would not be corralled by conventional wisdom or the sniping of the media elite.

Anyone who observes politics, indeed anyone who has himself led a complex organization, knows that, as Richard Neustadt wrote in his study of the presidency ("Presidential Power"), that there is just so much 'political capital' that any leader has. That capital grows with success, and is diminished by failure. Thus, a leader has to choose his issues, choose his moments, and cannot do everything you or I might have projected he was going to champion.

With respect to a clear-and-present danger to society at large, I had hoped that the president would have rallied the nation on the boring subject of financial reform, and that he would have taken up the cause of breaking up the big banks because 6 institutions' assets equaling 63% of total GDP is just too dangerous, too injurious to democracy, too far a departure from competitive markets, to be allowed to continue. We are all devastated because of them. I applaud the president for sticking to healthcare reform, for delivering a very important start that is open for additions and improvements.

This, Mr. President, is it. It is the Rev Wright moment of your presidency. With this speech you will seize and sustain the initiative to rally the country, oblivious to all the sniping and parsing and attacking that masquerades as political dialogue, and tackle together the conjoined problems of fossil fuel dependence, government-takeover by vested interests and jobs. You will set more aggressive initiatives for the change-over from fossil fuels, and will tax oil companies so the government--yes, the government--can invest in the infrastructures required to effect that change and provide a rebate to the middle class to offset increased energy prices. You will re-create Harry Hopkins' Works Progress Administration to hire directly--yes, directly--4 million unemployed workers to build that infrastructure. You will recreate the Civilian Conservation Corps to clean the beaches and marshes of oil and sludge.

You will remind us that the military is taking daily casualties, and call upon the elites, finally, to display a measure of patriotic self-sacrifice. You will state, directly and boldly, that opponents of this initiative are pro-Iran, providing it the money to build nuclear weapons and spread hate and misery around the Persian Gulf. Period.

You will--analogous to what you did with Rev Wright and race--address head-on the issue of "government-by-corporation" that has grown slowly despite President Eisenhower's warning about the military-industrial complex, and then became a matter of deliberate policy by the Bush/Cheney Administration. You will announce legislation forbidding Members of Congress from ever lobbying Congress--ever--indicating the noble choice of public service should not be polluted by a subsequent self-service to the detriment of that same public. The message will be simple--choose.

You will ask each cabinet department to conduct an investigation of practices during the Bush Administration, and expose them, whether they were the appointments of industry insiders to regulatory and/or policy-making roles, or lax enforcement, or both. We know, for example, about the MMS, we know about the SEC, and we know the Justice Department had unprecedented contacts with the White House under Bush/Cheney. Let us get all of that out in a single document, and take immediate steps to correct it. You entered office in a crisis, and wanted to move forward. The Gulf disaster should be a wake-up call that you cannot progress until you understand, and reverse, the actions of the past.

You will start and sustain a narrative about America and its founders, referencing "establishing justice", "promoting the general welfare", and "securing the blessings of liberty for...our posterity", from the Preamble to the Constitution as part of a clear mission for this Republic. You will remind the country that its greatest periods of prosperity occurred when government was a "counterveiling power" to big business, not its handmaiden, and when the middle class was the strongest.

There is, Mr. President, a nation ready to be led. There is also a portion of that nation that wants us, and you, to fail. Acknowledge their existence, briefly mention their motivations...and then ignore them, as you did with the racists who used the Reverend Wright episode to come out of the woodwork.

Or, you will keep splitting differences...and fail to rally a nation desperately crying for that transformation that you are uniquely equipped to provide it.

This is your moment. And, the nation's.