Saturday, February 28, 2009

Poem: Bitterlong

Risen above


Pathway imperfect save for the ghosts unseen

Amidst the breaks in between the music in my head

A long awaited sleep

After decades of sleeplessness

Brought on

Imposed upon

But sleep

Chaste and chastened

Bound and unbound

But sleep

Dreams disoriented

Ships exploded

Swimmers seeking shore

All the while trying to forget to remember

Where I’m going

Unknown, undetermined, unbeknownst

Where I’m going

Austral winds
African plains

Fanciful thoughts

Wishing I were wealthy but glad I’m not

Oh! To be free from the sake of being me!

© 02/28/2009 by Matthew DiBiase

Friday, February 20, 2009

Barack Obama: All in a Month's Work

Whether the Obama administration’s economic stimulus package and its relief plan for homeowners will achieve its desired results is debatable. The Great Depression didn’t end until America entered World War Two. Congress passed Ronald Reagan’s tax cut in 1981 but had to endure two hard years of economic recession before the Reagan Recovery took effect. The severity and breadth of our present crisis requires a special patience from the American people. Whether the American people are presently capable of such patience is also debatable.

What is not debatable is the skill and speed with which Obama Administration got the stimulus package passed and signed into law. Whether you are for or against the package, Obama deftly and subtly utilized his negotiating and oratorical skills and the political skills of his Cabinet and staff to get Congress to approve the deal. Despite facing Republican opposition in the House and Senate; despite experiencing tangential obstacles like the withdrawal of some his Cabinet nominees for various embarrassing reasons, Obama never lost focus and never lost sight of what had to be done. He held firm against any attempt at pulling the teeth from the stimulus package but at the same time allowed room for compromise in order to insure passage of the bill. Obama did what he could to bring a bipartisan feel to the bill. I can’t see how he could have done anything more without compromising the effectiveness or integrity of the package. After he got House passage of the bill he faced the prospect of a filibuster in the Senate. Amazingly, however, it didn’t happen. He got the three G.O.P. votes needed for cloture and secured Senate passage in record time and, even more amazingly, got the House and Senate to reconcile the two bills even more swiftly than the original Senate bill.

Critics carp that Obama only got three Republican votes in the Senate. What they forget is that Bill Clinton got no Republican votes at all when he needed Congress to pass his tax increase to reduce the budget deficit and get the economy moving again. He may have only gotten three votes but those three votes were all that he needed—a lesser President would not have gotten those three votes. Obama got them. That speaks volumes about his potential for leadership.

Obama didn’t have to resort to fear-mongering or arm-twisting like George W. Bush did. Obama allowed the bleak news to convince Congress. Necessity alone dictated that some sort of plan had to pass if this nation is to regain its economic confidence and reestablish its primacy again. To do nothing was to fail.

For all the conservative cant (and it is cant) about labeling the Obama stimulus package as nothing more than a massive borrow and spend bill what conservatives really don’t want the American people to remember is that America has been engaging in borrow and spend fiscal policies since 1981. The Reagan Recovery of 1983 to 1987 was financed by money which didn’t exist. Presidents Bush the Elder, Clinton, and Bush the Younger all perpetuated this trend. The only differences are in the ideological foci of the spending bills. The last truly fiscal conservative President (who truly believed in balanced budgets and cutting government spending) was Dwight Eisenhower.

For all the G.O.P.’s ideological posturing and their partisan hand-wringing, the truth remains is that they had six years from 2001 to 2007 to practice what they preached about fiscal sanity and less government—and they refused to do so.

Ideological purity is all well and good but to paraphrase the Lakota medicine man Black Elk: you can’t eat ideological purity. You can’t cash ideological purity at the bank. You can’t use ideological purity to pay for groceries or the mortgage or the car loans or your kids’ college education.

All this country can do now is hunker down and pray that the economic stimulus package works somehow.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Abraham Lincoln: a Bicentennial

The number of books, articles, columns, novels, and stories written about Abraham Lincoln could fill a large arena. Considering the fact that two days from now America will celebrate the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth the challenge that confronts this writer is what can I write about Lincoln which hasn’t been written before?

Instead I would like to define Abraham Lincoln in a series of vignettes. The first vignette happened on April 7, 1865. Lee’s army was in full retreat and racing towards its rendezvous with destiny at Appomattox Courthouse. Two huge Union Army columns were converging on Lee from the North and South, trapping him. One of the column leaders, General Phil Sheridan sent a telegraph to Ulysses S. Grant saying, “If the thing is pressed. I think Lee will surrender.” Lincoln, who for years had monitored all cable traffic sent by the Union armies, did a rare and extraordinary thing: he telegraphed Sheridan and Grant both saying, “Let the thing be pressed. “

Lincoln’s cable is a terse testament to the iron will which sustained not only him but a divided nation which suffered through four horrific, bloody years of Civil War. Throughout those four years Lincoln had to repeatedly give orders which resulted in tens of thousands of brave men on both sides to go to their deaths. Throughout those four years Lincoln repeatedly struggled and implored the vast majority of his generals to let the thing be pressed so as to bring this war to a quick, decisive, victorious conclusion only to be denied because many of his commanders were too timid, too incompetent or too unwilling to push until the Confederacy gave in. It wasn’t until 1864 when he found Grant, Sheridan, and William Tecumseh Sherman that he found commanders with the same steely resolve to let the thing be pressed. For too long Lincoln had seen defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. He was determined not to let it happen again. That was why he sent the cable to Sheridan and Grant, imploring action. (Not that they needed it. Both generals were just as eager to end the war as Lincoln was).

Two days later Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse.

The second vignette happened days after Lee’s surrender. Washington, D.C. was alit with torches of celebration over the restoration of the Union. Lincoln, having spoken so often during the war now wanted to speak in a time of peace. Lincoln stood in a window of the White House while a huge crowd gathered below anxious to hear what he had to say. Lincoln spoke to the crowds in his inimitable way and, in the course of his speech, asked the assembled throng a rhetorical question, “What shall we do with the rebels?”

The crowd, wearied by the long war, thirsting for revenge cried out, “Hang them! Hang them! Hang them!”

It was then Lincoln’s young son, Tad, who had been sitting at his feet inside the White House while his father spoke, cried out to his father, “No, Pa! We must hang onto them!” Lincoln, who weeks before had told the nation, “With malice towards none and charity for all” looked down at his young son, smiled, and said for the crowd to hear, “that’s exactly right, son, we must hang onto them.”

That magnanimity of spirit came from a moral code which had been forged and sharpened by a lifetime of hard work, sacrifice, heartbreak, disappointment, and struggle. It was that moral code that allowed Lincoln to overcome disunion, public vituperation, military defeat, and potential political ruination in the course of restoring the sacred oneness of America and to allow this country to once more proceed on its unfinished quest to form a more perfect union. Eighty years later Winston Churchill defined the moral code as being “In war: resolution. In defeat: defiance. In victory: magnanimity. In peace: good will.”

That is why we honor Abraham Lincoln today.