Rays of Sunshine Peep Through the Clouds of Doubt

You may have been feeling let down recently. Americans put a bright young fellow in the White House expecting a change from the wretched politics and policies of the past eight years, and what did they get? Words – lots and lots of words. As far as deeds are concerned, the more things changed the more they’ve seemed the same.

You might say that it isn’t the guy’s fault. The system sucks. Sorry to be so crude, but that’s the most accurate description I can come up with. Long, long ago, someone wrote an ill-advised memo, which somehow got attached to the U.S. Constitution. And it has been interpreted to mean that corporations have the same rights as individuals. Over the years, that has steered the government away from democracy – you know “government of the people, by the people, for the people” – to government of the people by the corporations for the corporations.

In practical terms, it has meant unrestrained bribery of elected representatives through corporate campaign contributions. The Supreme Court consistently torpedoes any attempt to curb the practice, since corporations enjoy the same rights (to free speech, etc.) as individuals.

So, on the face of it, attempts at reform are pretty much predestined to failure.

But surely candidate Obama was aware of that? He’s a Constitutional scholar, after all. So why did he promise so much, knowing he could do so little?

changeI could come up with all kinds of cynical responses to that question, but not today. Today I am prepared to concede he may be the genuine article, that he can bring about the changes he promised, that he might be wily enough to work around the system.

I know, I’ve criticized him for being too flexible, too patient, too “bipartisan.” In his place I would have plunged headlong into the fray, reeking of testosterone and inflated ego, laying down the law and telling anybody who would listen that I had a mandate from “the people” so it was my way or the highway.

But I probably would’ve been outflanked by sly politicians with axes to grind. The reforms I sought would most likely have been sabotaged.

Obama is playing it a different way. He smiles and makes no sudden moves, offering olive branches all over the place and saying nice things about everybody, friend or foe (except, understandably, Fox News).  To be honest with you, it has been driving me crazy. But now, I’m wondering whether he might be on to something.

Bright spots have appeared in the news this morning, making me wonder whether change may be possible after all. Most encouraging, of course, is the announcement by Majority Leader Harry Reid that a public option is in the Senate’s draft of the much debated health care reform bill. I realize the bill is 1,000 pages long and could include a lot of ugly stuff. I realize states will be able to opt out of the public option after trying it for a year. I realize pharmaceutical companies would be shielded from the government’s massive bargaining power. And I realize that the desperately needed reforms won’t be implemented for several years… But all of that having been said, it’s better than I expected.

Another reason to cheer comes from the latest real estate sales figures. Home prices were up for the third straight month in August. The home price index of 20 major cities released today rose 1 percent from July. Yes, I know, 1 percent doesn’t sound like much and prices are at levels not seen since August 2003. (They’ve fallen almost 30 percent since May 2006.) But the latest index shows a widespread turnaround with prices rising month-over-month in 15 metro areas since June. Keep your fingers crossed.

Also encouraging is the President’s deliberate approach to the military’s request for more troops in Afghanistan. In his place, I would’ve told the generals to do unpleasant things to themselves and called all of America’s troops home. But can you imagine the fallout? The military-industrial complex and its lackeys in Congress would’ve eaten me alive.  I don’t know how President Obama will deal with the Afghan tar baby but at least he’s not rushing to do the bidding of his generals. I’m beginning to hope he may have a plan to extricate America with the least possible damage.

If you’ve been reading these blogs, you know I’ve been wondering why the Obama Administration has not initiated more direct development – like rebuilding the nation’s outdated power grid. Looking at the way the stimulus package emerged from Congress, I got a sinking feeling. It seemed the money was destined for a scatter-shot program designed more to pacify the states and placate political allies than to revive the economy.

Today, I got some good news. President Obama is announcing grants totaling $3.4 billion in support of 100 projects aimed at modernizing the power grid. The projects include installing “smart” electric meters in homes, automating utility substations, and installing thousands of new digital transformers and grid sensors. The grants, which come from the government’s $787 billion stimulus program, will be matched by $4.7 billion in private investments. This is the kind of thing that could get the “green revolution” off to a fast start. It will spur development of wind and solar power and probably provide thousands (millions?) of new jobs.

So today I will bask in the rays of sunshine peeping through the clouds of doubt. Tomorrow, I may be beset by misgivings again. But let’s look on the bright side today.