Building a new America

It's unlikely that anyone stood up during the Renaissance and declared: "We're living in what will always be remembered as mankind's golden age." Nor that any soldier on the front lines of World War II bragged, at the time, about being part of "t...

It's unlikely that anyone stood up during the Renaissance and declared: "We're living in what will always be remembered as mankind's golden age." Nor that any soldier on the front lines of World War II bragged, at the time, about being part of "the greatest generation."

Perhaps no one (none of us) grasps, in real time, the contribution of the age they (we) are living in. So we can be excused for not fully appreciating the significance of this time and place, or the ambitious agenda put forth by President Barack Obama in his address to a joint session of Congress. But the more his plan unfolds, and the more we understand it, the more we will realize its historic dimensions.

We are definitely experiencing a serious economic crisis, Obama admits. But in that crisis, he also sees incredible opportunity, provided we respond to hardship the way Americans always have. "History reminds us," the president told Congress, "that at every moment of economic upheaval and transformation, this nation has responded with bold action and big ideas."

In the middle of the Civil War, for example, Americans built the transcontinental railroad. Out of the turmoil of the Industrial Revolution came a network of public high schools. In the aftermath of World War II, Congress established the GI Bill, bringing college education within the reach of every American family. Later challenges spurred the Interstate Highway System and our success in putting a man on the moon.

They are all examples of bold ideas translated into bold action. And in our own time of crisis, Obama proposes no less. Looked at in its entirety, his economic recovery plan amounts to a radical, top-to-bottom restructuring of our entire economy.


Think about it. As part and parcel of fixing the economy, he will start by changing the way we produce and use energy in this country: spending $15 billion a year to develop wind and solar power, biofuels, clean coal technology, and research into fuel-efficient automobiles. At the same time, he will modernize electrical transmission with a new "smart grid," in order to deliver electricity more cleanly and efficiently, and institute a "market cap" on carbon emissions to lower U.S. production of greenhouse gases. Others talked about energy independence. Obama will take us there.

Next up: As another key component of economic recovery, President Obama will tackle health care. By signing the children's health, or SCHIP, legislation and dedicating $17 billion to health-information technology, he's already done more to improve our health care system than George W. Bush did in eight years. But Obama didn't stop there. In his 2010 budget, he sets aside another $634 billion for the day Congress finally passes health-care reform legislation. Others talked about universal coverage. Obama will take us there.

In the 21st century, a healthy economy also depends on an educated populace. This is why, in addition to $115 billion already allocated in the stimulus package for new school construction and expansion of early childhood education, college tuition tax credits and Pell grants for college, Obama also proposes offering college education in return for a period of national service. Again, others have talked about providing every American child with a "complete and competitive education." Obama will take us there.

And those revolutionary changes in energy, health care and education are matched by equally bold ventures in other areas.

Manufacturing: requiring American automakers to retool in order to produce non-fossil fuel cars. Trade: eliminating tax breaks for corporations that ship jobs overseas. Finance: assuming partial ownership of banks in return for full transparency and elimination of executive perks. Government accounting: reporting the real size of the federal budget and deficit, without hiding the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The point is, agree or disagree with his policies, you can't deny the fact that President Obama is not just tinkering around the edges of reform. He has embarked on the biggest remaking and reshaping of the American economy since FDR brought us back from the Great Depression. President Obama understands that today's economic crisis is also the opportunity to deliver the structural changes we need, not just to survive these difficult times, but to grow out of them stronger than ever.

What a contrast. Republicans are still talking about more tax cuts. Obama is talking about rebuilding America.

Faced with which, all Republicans can do is just say no. Pathetic.


Rebuilding America. It's about time.

-- Press is host of a nationally-syndicated radio show and author of "Train Wreck: The End of the Conservative Revolution (and Not a Moment Too Soon)."

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