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Who will ask for sacrifices?

Imagine if President Obama, taking seriously the national debt, the oil spill, and the other grave threats of the day, were to give a speech like this – “Every single person in the United States is going to be affected….  (business) profits are going to be cut down to a reasonably low level by taxation…. (Americans) will have to forgo higher wages….  All of us are used to spending money for things that we want, things, however, which are not absolutely essential.  We will all have to forgo that kind of spending.”

You can already hear Rush Limbaugh’s spittle-flecked rant about socialism, tyranny, and big government takeover.  So where was Rush when FDR gave the speech just quoted, preparing a nation just recovering from the Great Depression for the cost of entering World War II?

FDR made eight references to “sacrifice” in that speech. In an age of focus-grouped, poll-tested politics you may never again hear a president with the bravery to include those painful truths in a speech.   And it seems doubtful that Americans would rise to the challenge in the same way as the WWII generation did.

My own father, the owner of a service station in WWII, had foot problems and vision poor enough that he was unable to serve in the military.  But he was able to see his way to helping in the war effort.  Gasoline rationing, along with tires, had a real effect on his livelihood.  He did his part without complaint, just like everybody else.

In response to the September 11 attack in New York, President Bush advised us to carry on as usual, go shopping.  Now President Obama, as an initial response to the Gulf oil spill, says we can help by, “continuing to visit the communities and beaches of the Gulf coast.”

The sad thing about this is that he has probably gauged his electorate accurately.  While it is normal for citizens to blame the sitting president for every catastrophe, it is rare that the president will challenge the citizenry.  It certainly didn’t win Jimmy Carter many friends.

In the torrent of dim-witted things being said in the press, one that struck me was from David Broder, the “dean of Washington pundits.”  He said that the BP oil gushing in the gulf is now the president’s baby, and will define his presidency.  That may be true, but it is not right.

It is the baby of all of us who believe we have a constitutional right to consume oil in whatever sized vehicle we choose.  If it could be shown that our dependence on oil was a threat to national security would we submit to gasoline rationing in order to reduce that threat?  If it could be proven that our constitutional right to be amused and distracted by extravagant media hardware and content-free programming was stunting our economy and our civic awareness, would we put it aside and begin paying attention?

The individual freedoms we so prize were won collectively, by shared sacrifice, and have been defended through the years in the same way.  The national spending hemorrhage we now face, in addition to ecological catastrophe and Mid-East political peril will be righted only by all of us sharing the burden of adult solutions offered by adult leaders.  Our parents gave that to us.  Now it’s our turn.

Don Vowell lives in Keizer.  He gets on his soapbox regularly in the Keizertimes.