Rebuilding America requires all of us to promote the general welfare of all the people of the United States. For too long, as Robert Kennedy said, we have put the “mere accumulation of material things” ahead of our patriotic duty to serve the common good.
Worse we have surrendered to a form of commercialism based on “force, fraud and unconscionable greed” (from “Systems of Survival” by Jane Jacobs). We have allowed our competitive markets to erode. The need to provide full and fair disclosure in the sale of securities has been abandoned. We have given up on preventing frauds. Inequitable and unfair market practices go unabated; we foster and reward them.
We San Diegans have been especially victimized by the ravages of unbridled commercialism. San Diego has been crippled with high vacancy rates for office, retail, warehouse and other income-producing properties. Last April voiceofsandiego.org reported that U.S. Census data showed even Mission Valley had one of the highest vacancy rates in San Diego: “About 12 percent of homes in the neighborhood’s core, many built in the last decade, were vacant.”
Our government has been handed over to a small number of financial players who use government favors to deny equal business opportunity. We see this in San Diego with some businesses receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies while others go without any help. Credit is granted according to connections not character. “The government has got into the hands of the bosses and an invisible empire has been set up above our democracy,” as President Woodrow Wilson remarked of a similar time in 1912.
In 2008 the power of selfish commercial interests over our government reached its zenith. A small group of financiers forced the United States government to pay billions of dollars of their losses from high stakes derivative gambling conducted in private casinos in the nation’s largest banks. Many of the mortgages underlying those derivatives were on homes in San Diego.
Rather than denounce the government for paying off the derivative gambling losses, President Barack Obama cited it for saving us from another Great Depression. Instead of stopping the out-of-control commercialism of the derivate gamblers, Obama facilitated it with new permissive regulations he hopes will avoid more bailouts but admits will not stop derivative gaming.
These derivative gamesters have infested our political system with their ugly commercial practices. They pay to elect the president, senators and representatives. The gamblers have soldered their reckless derivative trading practices to the emergency machinery the government uses to help distressed banks recover financial health.
Obama has broken with the wisdom of Jefferson, Jackson, Wilson, and Roosevelt when it comes to dealing with selfish commercial interests:
President Thomas Jefferson: “I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies.”
President Andrew Jackson: “It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes.”
President Woodrow Wilson: “A little group of willful men, representing no opinion but their own, have rendered the great government of the United States helpless and contemptible.”
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt: “Faced by failure of credit they have proposed only the lending of more money. … They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers.”
The election of Obama was hopeful. When he began his presidency in 2009, Democrats had a 257-178 edge over the Republicans in the House of Representatives, and a 58-41 edge in the Senate. But he failed to seize the moment. In his inaugural address he made a passing reference to “greed and irresponsibility on the part of some” and said the financial “crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control.” But his were weak, weasel words uttered with no passion or sense of purpose.
Obama erred in delivering a tepid inaugural address. He has not been strong in character, determined in purpose or bold in vision. He has not discerned or strengthened the tendencies upon which our development as a nation is based. Missing has been a profound sympathy for those whom he was supposed to lead. He has not been a leader of his party, of a legislative agenda, nor a spokesperson for the people. In short, he has not been a success in the arena of national politics in our democracy.
Obama has been an able voice for the bankers and financial interests who finance his campaign. He proved that by bringing more money to his campaign from “employees of banks, hedge funds and other financial service companies than all of the GOP candidates combined,” reported the Washington Post.
Obama is young enough and good enough to recover from these errors. He can take confidence from the fact that “in every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves.” Obama can go a long ways to advancing his cause by dropping the claims that the bailout stopped a depression and the financial reforms will stop another bailout. The first is an excuse for the bailout, and the second an excuse for more reckless derivative trading. Both represent the ugly face of today’s commercialism.
Obama can help his re-election and advance his chances for a successful presidency by embracing the tradition of the four Democratic Party presidents. Presidents Jefferson, Jackson, Wilson and Roosevelt were all elected to at least two full terms because the people trusted they represented the common good of the nation. All four rank in the top 10 of our best presidents. All possessed moral courage. All four spoke for their generation. All four kept concentrated, selfishness commercialism out of the White House.
Michael Aguirre is the former city attorney of San Diego.
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