Monthly Archives: November 2011

The Wordsmith in Chief

America, since its inception, has always aimed at being a beacon for the rest of the world, thanks to the promotion, and sometimes the imposition, of its values— a strong commitment to justice, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—upon the rest of the world. Until a few decades ago, American decision-makers have had a lot of explaining to do when they had to justify their benevolent interventions in other countries in the name of liberty, while their own society was still harboring the evils of slavery and segregation, let alone the original sin of the misappropriation of the Natives’ lands. But the greatness of this country has always been its ability to outgrow its shortcomings, and today, with a Black man in the White House, the current generation of White Americans—who were the very first to carry Obama’s presidential dream when even some notable Black icons deemed it utopian— have redeemed the souls of their ancestors.

Today, wherever people are suffering from oppression and dictatorship, they solicit America’s intervention. Even in Iran, during last year’s uprising, the youth made it clear that America could help them get rid of their anachronistic self-serving leaders. How did America, despite its own historical failings, achieve such a unique status in the world? The answer lies in one of the most overlooked functions of an American president: that of being the wordsmith in chief.

Some moments like the moon landing, 9/11, Pearl Harbor, just to name a few, put all political  rivalries to rest for a while, as the country comes together to either celebrate or  grieve. In such moments, the citizenry, paralyzed by numbness, looks up to the president for the right words to trigger a communal and symbiotic emotional response by playing on each citizen’s patriotic fibers. And on these occasions, a president who can personally set pen to paper instead of relying on his speechmakers, has a better chance of rising up to the occasion, and deliver the celebratory or soothing speech—depending on the circumstances—that can uplift the most the national spirit and reaffirm America’s values to the rest of the world.

During the last two decades, France and England have participated in almost all the wars America has fought in the name of liberty. Why is it that their names are not associated with America’s in the proportion of their involvement when it comes to reaping the moral dividends of these expeditions? They have fallen short of selling their image as democracy-promoting countries. The United-States, more than anyone else, has been successful in doing that through the adept use of the Bully Pulpit by the US president. The latter has a unique leadership position in the world, and his words are sought after from Brazil’s Favela to Haiti’s slums to Iran’s youth circles.   And that is why it is so reassuring to have in the White House a president who masters the use of the written word, and just as much scary that some of those who may replace him cannot even put three ideas together without being the laughing stock in chief.


The Didactic Value of the Debt-Ceiling Crisis

By Frandley Denis Julien

An Excerpt from the forthcoming book: An Alien’s Perspective of America’s Challenges

Lincoln’s A House Divided speech is as relevant today as it was in 1858, and the threat America is facing nowadays is more subtle, yet just as ominous to the nation’s prosperity and concord as was the cleavage over slavery and the subsequent Civil War. For America is being held hostage by an obsolete and un-American two-party system that hinders progress and subordinates the interests of the nation to those of the Republican and Democratic parties. The fact that most politicians’ favorite line today is that they regularly stand up to their own party is a subtle acknowledgement of the parties’ extremist tendencies.

As disheartening as the recent debt ceiling stalemate may have been, it was nothing more than the tree that hides the forest. Beyond the resolution, in extremis, of that crisis, lies the fact that the two-party system is broken beyond repair. If the two parties could not find a consensus in a timely manner on such an urgent issue, when will they ever find one on the environment, immigration, education, defense, entitlements or fiscal policy?

The tendency of the parties’ bases to be ideologically fundamentalist is preventing the political personnel from approaching the challenges of our time with an open mind, therefore causing an ideological sclerosis. The parties’ ideological stances are set in stone, and any attempt toward innovation is bound to provoke vehement protestations from those with whom said innovation does not register. For them to register, the parties’ aficionados must be able to tie them up to a similar stance having been taken by Reagan, Lincoln, Roosevelt or Kennedy, depending on which party is concerned. Consequently, the two parties are more retrograde than they are forward-looking, and the fact that real innovative decisions that have not been tested by the giants of either party are deemed at least suspicious or adventurous, they have been unable to propose daring solutions to the challenges at hand. And the parties have been recycling old solutions to try to resolve new challenges engendered by a time of radical changes both positive and negative.

The country that has the most promoted the values of competition in all spheres of life cannot continue to maintain an oligarchic political system. There is today a critical mass of Americans who have grown weary of the sterility of the current system to warrant the emergence of a significant third party. America needs a third party that pleads its allegiance to common sense, critical thinking, and that can embody the spirit of compromise that characterizes the silent majority. By silent majority, I mean those who would have welcomed a solution to the debt ceiling crisis that would have included both an increase in revenues and a decrease in entitlements.

It is about time that those of  America’s politicians with a bi-partisan mind—and they do exist— get together and launch a centrist party aimed at espousing the aspirations of mainstream America. This party would offer an umbrella to all those Americans who have grown weary of Washington. This third party would make it easier for decent policies to pass Congress, as it would successively lend its support to Democratic and Republican bills alike, irrespective of ideology, as long as they befit America’s common good. The third party would also contribute to dilute the hatred that Republicans and Democrats vow to one another. Indeed, the reason why they hate one another is because they are like two siblings fighting over a limited family legacy. The introduction of a third element to the equation would come as a wakeup call to the parties that would no longer be able to resort to the blame game. They would also become less important, and more prone toward cooperation and coalition-building.

America should consider the current British coalition government as a teaching moment as to the virtue of political pluralism. Indeed, after the May 6th, 2010 general election, England had a hung parliament, which in America would have inaugurated an acute political crisis. But in England, thanks to the plurality of the political parties, it was possible for the Liberal Democrats to form a coalition with the Conservatives, which led to the investiture of David Cameron as Prime-Minister, and the prompt resolution of the crisis.

If the deleterious political system does not go through a major overhaul with the emergence of a weighty third party, I am afraid we will have to sadly recognize another facet of Lincoln’s greatness, namely the prophetic dimension of his elegant prose.