Dear President Obama, Please Visit Baton Rouge

Dear President Obama,

I applaud your decision to speak at the July memorial service for the five officers tragically slain in Dallas. Your thoughtful words offered comfort to a city left reeling from a terrible tragedy. Those words also made me recall the rousing eulogy you gave at the Emmanuel A.M.E Church following another tragic mass shooting last year in Charleston. The way you described the concept of grace that day was thoughtful, insightful, and inspiring. To me, that was one of the finest moments of your Presidency, and a proud moment for our country.

Accordingly, I respect you a great deal as a man of character and conviction, even though I have not always agreed with your decisions. I campaigned and voted for you twice, and I am proud to have defended you countless times against myriad slights, often baseless and ignorant. To me, you seem like someone who sincerely appreciates the value of human life, and empathizes with the suffering of fellow human beings.

Therefore, it is with the utmost respect that I implore you to visit the city of Baton Rouge, Louisiana before your presidency ends. To me, it seems like a community still very much in need of healing. All video evidence of Alton Sterling’s shooting seems to indicate that his killing by local police amounted to summary execution. Witnesses have been intimidated and harassed. An entire community appears to be under siege by a militarized police force, armed with combat vehicles and assault weapons.

To some, your decision to pass over the grieving communities of Baton Rouge, and Falcon Heights, Minnesota where Philando Castile was also tragically killed by local police, may seem to imply that our government values blue lives more than black lives.

Clearly, that is not what you believe in your heart. I am merely suggesting how the situation may seem to our fellow Americans living in marginalized communities across the country who feel under siege by an aggressive, militarized police force that often seems to kill with impunity. You have the opportunity to do for those communities  what you did when you stood before that congregation in Charleston last year, and joined them in song.

To me, taking a stand for the inherent rights and dignity of all human beings by offering some quantum of solace to communities who suffered tragic losses at the hands of law enforcement will have a tremendously positive impact on your legacy. Doing so would also constitute a step forward for our country, as we come together to move forward as one nation and one people.

 

Live Together, Die Alone

For me, last night’s State of the Union address will forever be entwined with next week’s season premiere of Lost, and not just because of the much publicized scheduling conflict between the two television events. As strange as it sounds, ABC’s sci-fi inflected drama and the President’s moving oration share a common theme.

By imploring Congressional Republicans to cooperate with Democrats on confronting the many, critical concerns facing our nation, President Obama echoed the rallying cry of Lost ‘s motley crew of castaways: “live together, die alone.”

Following the crash of Oceanic Airlines Flight 815, the survivors find themselves marooned on a mysterious island in the South Pacific. Several days pass and cabin fever begins to set in. As tensions run high, a scuffle breaks out, prompting former trauma surgeon Jack Shepard to assert himself as the group’s leader.

After separating the two combatants, Shepard admonishes his newfound flock, “We can’t do this. Every man for himself is not going to work. It’s time to start organizing. We need to figure out how we’re going to survive here. If we can’t live together, we’re going to die alone.”

Likewise, speaking on behalf of all Americans last night, President Obama declared, “They are tired of the partisanship and the shouting and the pettiness. They know we can’t afford it. Not now…we face big and difficult challenges. And what the American people hope – what they deserve – is for all of us, Democrats and Republicans, to work through our differences; to overcome the numbing weight of our politics.”

A similar sentiment arises from both of these appeals. Each leader is beseeching his people to resolve their superficial or ideological differences in the interest of ensuring their mutual survival and shared prosperity. Like the American people, the Oceanic survivors came from diverse backgrounds and represented a wide-range of beliefs. And like us, they faced “big and difficult challenges.”

But, out of necessity, they banded together to divide labor, delegate responsibility and otherwise forge the bonds of a functioning society. Over two hundred years ago, a bold group of Americans from throughout the thirteen colonies made a similar pact: the Declaration of Independence. It’s time for us to renew those vows.

Retaining our position as global hegemon in this burgeoning century will require a massive investment in our future. We must fix our country’s crumbling infrastructure by repairing our dilapidated roads, bridges, dams and public transit systems. We must amend our unsustainable economic, environmental, energy and health care policies. And we must fight against the growing culture of distrust and cynicism that is suffocating our democracy.

Unless we unite to overcome these obstacles, our nation will collapse under “the numbing weight of our politics.” Live together, die alone. It’s that simple.

Waterloo or Dunkirk?

Last summer, Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) predicted that if Republicans were “able to stop” passage of a comprehensive health care reform bill, the defeat would be President Obama’s “Waterloo” (a reference to the French Emperor Napoleon’s final battle). In the months that followed, health care industry lobbyists and their GOP counterparts engaged in a shameful campaign of scare-tactics, disinformation and outright lies against reform.

This cynical crusade proved brutally effective, turning public opinion against the bill and helping to sweep Senator-elect Scott Brown (R-MA) into office. Consequently, Democratic leaders are considering scrapping the legislation and starting from scratch. Some even advocate walking away from the issue entirely. That would be a huge mistake. If Congressional Democrats abandon health care now, DeMint’s statement may very well come true.

On the contrary, by coming together and successfully salvaging some semblance of reform, this battle may prove to be President Obama’s Dunkirk rather than his Waterloo. For those who slept through history class, the “miracle of Dunkirk” occurred in 1940, prior to U.S. involvement in World War Two. Following a disastrous offensive against Nazi Germany in France, over 300,000 retreating British troops were rescued from the beaches around Dunkirk and ferried back across the English Channel to fight another day.

Ever since, the term “Dunkirk spirit” has been synonymous with Britain’s stoic resolve and tendency to band together when faced with tremendous adversity. Democrats can learn much from this quintessential “disaster turned to triumph.” If they answer the call of history and rally to pass comprehensive health care reform, it would provide a psychological boost to Democratic morale and build momentum heading into the 2010 midterm elections.

According to Politico.com, the most likely scenario for passage involves the House approving the Senate’s bill word-for-word, while House leaders make limited changes to appease certain, key constituencies. These revisions would then be passed by the Senate using a parliamentary maneuver known as reconciliation, generally reserved for budget measures, that requires only 51 votes.

Opponents of reform will inevitably argue that invoking reconciliation amounts to subverting the people’s will. However, that opinion fails to acknowledge the underhanded tactics employed by the GOP to influence public opinion. It also ignores the precedent set by the Bush Administration when they used reconciliation to push through their tax cuts for the wealthiest one-percent of Americans in 2001 and 2003.

As Democratic strategist David Plouffe noted in an op-ed piece for the Washington Post yesterday, “Americans’ health and our nation’s long-term fiscal health depend on” passing, “a meaningful health care reform package without delay.” The status quo, in regard health care and many other issues, is unsustainable. Congressional Democrats must approve the reform bill and let the American People judge it on its own merits instead of Republican propaganda.

The British experience at Dunkirk demonstrates how an inspiring moral victory, snatched from the jaws of demoralizing defeat, can quickly transform into an enduring, rallying cry. Although, as Prime Minister Winston Churchill cautioned after that epic rescue, “wars are not won by evacuations.” President Obama and his fellow Democrats must win major, decisive, legislative victories in the coming months and years. Passing a comprehensive health care reform bill by any means necessary is the first step towards achieving those goals.