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Major Advances Demand Moral Leadership

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President Obamaby Adil E. Shamoo

Give a break to President Obama on domestic issues. He has no choice but to have compromised on recent legislations – healthcare and financial reforms. Let us not wait for perfect reforms and cut our own throat to achieve nothing – we, the progressives, will not get all what we want because we simply do not have the votes. Most of social, civil and political advances in our society require moral leadership and compromises.

To name few: 1863 - Emancipation Proclamation, 1865 - abolishing slavery with the 13th Amendment, 1868 – due process and equal protection rights to all citizens, 1870 – right to vote to all citizens with the 15th Amendment, 1920 – granting women the right to vote with the 19th Amendment, 1964 – Civil Rights Act, and the 1965 – Voting Rights Act. In each one of these great accomplishments, there were decades of advocacy and suffering but also there were compromises.

The type of moral leadership required in each case may have been different. The risks to the leader also may have been different. When President Abraham Lincoln declared The Emancipation Proclamation, the country was torn apart in a civil war – no one was sure of the outcome. Lincoln’s motivations for the emancipation declaration were many. There was an opportunity to add more soldiers to the Union Army – a popular stand. But, at the core of it, was to take a stab at the heart of discrimination against fellow human beings. Lincoln was looking at both the current and the future soul of the country. Yes, in the process he did make some compromises to achieve the greater moral point – freedom for all. Frederick Douglass, certainly wanted Lincoln to do more and faster in freeing the slaves. But, he understood the environments and still admired Lincoln. Afterword, Lincoln was assassinated and we had one of the worst presidents.
 
 The twin accomplishment of President Lyndon Johnson of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 – Voting Rights Act brought to us the “Great Society” with sweeping reforms. These two laws were far reaching beyond what many thought is doable at the time. Johnson, a southerner with great political skills took advantage of a nation just traumatized with the assassination of President Kennedy. There was a great reservoir of good will towards Johnson coming to the presidency at such trying moment in our history. This condition was coupled by the fact that Johnson strongly believed that discrimination against a significant component of our society is immoral and a cancer on our nation. Many wanted Johnson to do more and end any vestige of discrimination. When Johnson decided not to run for office because of the ill-advised Vietnam War, Richard Nixon won the presidency.
 
Finally, we come to President Barak Obama in 2010. Obama Shepherds the healthcare and the Wall Street reforms.  Both these reforms were accomplished against the strongest lobbyists from the healthcare industry and financial institutions. The healthcare reform, for the first time, will give health coverage to nearly all Americans including the fifty million uninsured Americans. Yes, the healthcare reform underwent compromises including the lack of public offering, but, Obama does not have a safe majority of sixty in the Senate. He had no choice but to accept a compromise.

The financial reforms, for the first time, may save us from the near financial collapse of 2008. The financial debacle caused suffering to millions of Americans while at the same time enriching some on Wall Street. Obama took a great deal of courage not to succumb to one side or another. The republicans and the lobbyists now want to gut both programs. If Obama loses the Congress this November, we will be back to ground zero. May be if we get the republicans in power again, the American people will vote later for more progressive candidates and get all the right reforms all at once - or maybe not. Or maybe it will take decades for such reforms.

There is a call for moral leadership from progressives and Obama and not to lose sight of what is most important. Otherwise we need to remember what if Lincoln and Johnson’s accomplishments have waited for decades or even a century?
 
Adil E. Shamoo is a senior analyst at Foreign Policy In Focus, and a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He writes on ethics and public policy. He can be reached at: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


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