Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs Given the resounding electoral victory of President Barack Obama, how should good citizens behave in light of that mandate for change?
Given the record level of popularity Obama enjoys at the outset of his administration, how should good citizens respond when our president requests that we follow his lead?
Given the growing threat from increasing economic turmoil, how should conscientious citizens react when our freshly minted president calls for dramatic and unprecedented policy changes absent calm, deliberate and multilateral civic debate?
For many Americans, the answer to those questions is: Given the mandate of the election, combined with the current overwhelming popularity of Obama, good citizenship requires we accede to his judgment because of the exigent crises we face.
Those Americans aren't just wrong, they're dangerously wrong.
World history is fraught with the perils of allegiance forged from the heat of crisis and the hammer of popularity. We need only to look back at the still-glowing embers of our 43rd presidential administration for the civic lesson that should be fresh in our minds as our 44th president confronts an economic emergency.
Whether your political persuasion leans left or right, most agree the administration of George W. Bush was replete with decisions deemed controversial and unpopular. The list includes the Iraq war, the Patriot Act, the Guantanamo Bay terrorist detention facility, the use of enhanced interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists, the warrantless wiretapping of Americans, the foreign rendition of suspected terrorists and myriad other hot-button policies.
But, if partisan leanings that too often cloud rationality are cast aside, we can see those decisions only became polarizing with hindsight. When those policies first took shape from the ashes floating above the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a quiet Pennsylvania field, they garnered support from the majority of Americans and our elected representatives from both parties.
Only revisionist history brands those policies as the spawn of a dictatorial Bush administration. The truth is that while those policies were birthed by Bush, they would have died absent congressional sustenance that flowed under Republican and Democrat control. And, contrary to current obfuscation designed to provide political cover, congressional leaders of both parties were not only briefed on now controversial national security policies - as required by law - but they also agreed with those decisions at their inception.
But the point is not who was right and who was wrong. The lesson is that many of our elected officials from both parties - blinded by a record 92 percent approval rating bestowed upon President George W. Bush in the aftermath of 9/11 - failed to perform their jobs with deliberation, reason and contemplation of the potential unintended consequences of those hastily enacted policies.
Only later did many in Congress admit they'd never read the Patriot Act.
Only later did growing numbers of Americans and their elected representatives begin to question the legality and efficacy of Guantanamo Bay, warrantless wiretaps, rendition and water boarding.
Only later did the charge arise that the Bush administration used the crisis of 9/11 as political cover to centralize power in the White House while usurping constitutionally protected American freedoms at home and launching an ill-conceived war abroad.
Again, the point is not whether we agree with those who retroactively find fault with those decisions hastily made during a real crisis. The lesson is that while speed may be warranted during perilous times, so to is clear thinking marked by deliberation if those decisions are to survive the test of time.
So, how should a conscientious citizen respond when Obama calls for expeditious, dramatic and unprecedented fiscal policy changes in light of the current world economic crisis? Good citizenship requires that we respectfully listen to and consider his recommended policies, while demanding deliberate and reasoned civic debate before instituting economic policies that will alter American capitalism and risk catastrophic fiscal consequences for generations to come.
Otherwise, just as the Bush administration correctly remains open to criticism of using the crisis of 9/11 as cover for political goals, the Obama administration will be vulnerable to charges that a hastily enacted trillion-dollar "fiscal stimulus" plan was nothing more than the use of an economic crisis to cover the political goal of replacing free markets with centralized government control of our economy.