President Obama's Second Chance to Assume Moral Duty of his Office

A Middletown reader says that a democratic leader is obligated to care for those citizens who have the least even if it means asking more from the rich.


“When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad, and that is my religion.”

Abe Lincoln, the greatest of U.S. presidents, said that, and I like it. Substitute the word “politics” for “religion” and you have a good idea of the way Lincoln governed the nation during the Civil War, the most turbulent and divisive period in U.S. history.

Good politics is, or should be, about doing good — and, no, I’m not talking about doing good for a select few, as in helping the wealthiest among us, the so-called “1 percent,” get even richer. Nor am I promoting an exclusively “utilitarian” notion of good, a philosophy that espouses the “greatest good for the greatest number.”

I have in mind a notion far more radical, one that that neither major political party is willing to embrace. Not yet, anyway. The idea I have in mind might strike some as entirely naïve, the byproduct of an idealistic mindset that has no place in a culture that, 30 years ago, under President Ronald Reagan, embraced a reactionary and brutal form of Social Darwinism.

So, here, very simply is the notion I want to promote: Good politics should be about doing good for the people who need it most, that is to say, the people who have the least. The true measure of a politician’s skill and effectiveness is found in the answer to this simple question: How did the least among us benefit from his, or her, time in office? That is same standard that should be used to measure the greatness of a society, especially one that professes to be ruled by a Judeo-Christian ethic.

If you live in and around Middletown you know the people I’m talking about. You may, in fact, be one of those people, or they may be your neighbors. In the Russell Library, you see them muttering to themselves, afflicted by hallucinations and personal demons the vast majority of us can’t begin to comprehend because, thankfully, our brain chemistry is functioning normally.

You may see others trudging down the street, backpacks slung over their shoulders, on the way to the homeless shelter, or huddled in front of the soup kitchen, waiting for lunch to be served.

Whatever their individual circumstances, the people I’m talking about are victims, victims of system that ignores the poor because they simply can’t afford access to those in power.

Would we regard Lincoln today as a great leader, a national hero, if he ignored the plight of the slaves, essentially telling them:  “You’re on your own. Good luck.” Yet today, politicians on both sides of the aisle tell us we have to limit our compassion, or least compartmentalize it.

In the interest of fairness, we have to take something from everybody, including those on the lowest end of the economic totem pole. Students struggling to pay college tuition, senior citizens living from month to miserable month on their Social Security allowance, anyone living at or below the poverty line, the mentally ill, the physically disabled, those with catastrophic illnesses — everyone has to give up something, or so we’re told.

Meanwhile, Wall Street bankers, the U.S. military, corporations who ship good jobs overseas — these people and institutions are asked to make relatively paltry sacrifices.

Clearly, it isn’t fair. “Suck it up,” say the most hard-hearted politicians and social engineers. “Life isn’t fair. Who said life is supposed to be fair.”  

Cynical types feed scraps to the “have-nots” in the form of platitudes such as: “It’s not that I don’t care about you, but I respect you too much to give you a hand-out,” they say. “You need to pick yourself up by your bootstraps.”

I would like to say that the results of the Nov. 6 election are a repudiation of that callous mindset; unfortunately, the data does not bear that out. A significant number of Tea Party Republicans were either returned or voted into Congress, setting the stage for more divisive rhetoric and partisan squabbling over the next four years.

How to find common ground? All the pundits are asking the same question. Alas, they are missing the point. Right now, there is no common ground to be had. The paradox is that President Obama’s willingness to compromise his principles has made the problem worse, not better.

What Mr. Obama needs to do is acknowledge, as Lincoln did on the issue of slavery, that, in seeking to do what is right and good, no compromises can be made. Ever.

Government has a moral obligation to care for those who have the least, a responsibility to create a truly fair, just society — even if it means asking more from the people who have the most to give.

Mr. President, use your office and your tremendously potent rhetoric to sell this idea to to a public that is ready, I think, to take bold step forward.

Do this, Mr. Obama, and you establish common ground where none now exists; do this, and you’ll be in good company with another favorite son from Illinois, Mr. Lincoln. Fail to do this, and history is likely to judge you as yet another president who squandered his opportunity.

Good luck.    

wyatt November 08, 2012 at 11:59 AM
Does "those who have the least" and "are powerless", include unborn babies in the womb? Isn't it the job of government to protect them also? Would not doing everything possible to overturn Roe v Wade, be doing, " right and good...where no compromise can ever be made"? Or do your grand sounding ideas of helping those less fortunate, not include the very least of us, the unborn?
edmund dantes November 08, 2012 at 05:19 PM
I have yet to see an explanation of how higher taxes lead to greater economic growth. This article is just recycled Democratic talking points. Having said that, the rich voted in Obama, so they must really want their taxes raised. I'm dropping my opposition to federal tax increases. I'm quite confident that raising rates on couples who earn more than $250,000 won't increase the available revenue to spend, but that doesn't seem to be the point, does it? It won't do anything for "fairness" either. But at least it will put an end to this stupid debate. Maybe then we can finally get around to addressing the doctor shortages, the disappearance of full time jobs, the new phenomenon of widespread part-time work, and the contraction of the CT economy. These are serious. The tax debate is not.
Robin Hood November 09, 2012 at 01:35 PM
Edmund, you have fallen victim to GOP rhetoric, allow me to explain. In 2000 our taxes while still unfair in areas were much better distributed before the W cuts, his cuts set up another transfer of wealth from us to the rich, it really didn't help us much. The expiration of those tax cuts are needed and they were very irresponsible at a time that the regime was entering into 2 wars and extending No Bid Contracts to corporations with ties to thise in the regime, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, etc, all were war profiteers. Now the GOP is calling this a tax increase, it isn't, it is a return to the way things were before the ignorant irresponsible actions. The rich did not vote Obama in, they wanted Robme, one of heir own, they did however hedge their bets by giving to both parties that is how the game is played and is why we have only 2 parties, it's fewer hand outs for the rich. In the simplest terms we the American people get screwed by the Dems but we get royally screwed by the Repubs who have absolutely no class, no hearts, no souls, and no conscious.
Robin Hood November 09, 2012 at 01:47 PM
You are confusing your religious beliefs with individual rights. My suggestion to people against abortion has always been to go out and adopt and offer adoption as an alternative, offer help, not forcing your beliefs on others. I have to tell you you are being suckered by the GOP over abortion, many people like you vote repub because of theis one issue, an issue that they have had ample opportunity to take care of. You and others voted for W and the GOP in 2000 because of abortion, then from 2000-2006 the GOP held the WH, House and Senate, they had complete power for 6 years and abortion never came up once and YOU never even noticed or complained to them did you ????
Robin Hood November 09, 2012 at 01:49 PM
exactly, it's funny how many people in this nation have different ideas on what the word ALL means, or the word Freedom


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