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Obama’s jobs program should be considered

Now that the 10th anniversary remembrances of 9/11 are over, it’s time, as it is said, to move on. But how should we do that?

Our country is in a tough spot. Unemployment is high, our “war on terror” rages on with no end in sight. The political fighting has rarely been more bitter or less helpful.

Our two major parties seem to embrace mutually exclusive premises about how to turn all this around.

Republicans tell us it’s all the fault of government and the unions, that we tax and spend too much, and that Obama is making matters worse.

Democrats argue the main problem is that our big corporations are acting irresponsibly, that they’ve dodged their fair share of taxes, and that they control not only the national media, but the Republican Party.

Republicans want to cut taxes even more, and reduce Medicare and Social Security, while most Democrats say the wealthy should pay a larger share of the necessary costs of having good schools, effective government and adequate pensions and health care for all.

Sometimes the words and actions of our great leaders of the past — Democrats and Republicans — can provide some guidance.

In 1801, after a divisive political campaign which saw the first time a major nation changed government with votes, instead of bullets or swords, the winner, Thomas Jefferson, said in his inaugural, “Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.”

That idea applies today. Left and right, we are all Americans, and we should be able to disagree without being disagreeable.

Abe Lincoln, the first president from today’s Republican party, after the horror of Gettysburg, where 50,000 Americans were killed or wounded by Americans, called for a “new birth of freedom.”

We can disagree as to what he meant by freedom, but it certainly wasn’t freedom from government. Lincoln, as everyone knows, used government to end slavery, help build the railroads, create the land grant colleges, such as Ohio State University, and stated a belief that workers had the right to strike.

Later, he spoke of ending the war with the slave states, “With malice toward none, with charity for all.”

He called on Congress and the people to “bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan.”

He closed with a call for “a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Historically, both Republicans and Democrats saw government as a way to help ordinary people. Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican, called for a “Square Deal” for the American people, pressured the coal mine owners to bargain with their unions, and signed the law creating the Food and Drug Administration.

Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, advocated a League of Nations, where governments could get together and tackle their problems by talking instead of shooting.

Democrat Franklin Roosevelt, agreed with that approach, and helped create the United Nations. As he stated it, “Better to jaw, jaw, than to war, war.”

FDR also used government to create jobs in the Great Depression, hiring people to build roads, parks, bridges, and dams.

He backed the creation of Social Security, unemployment compensation for laid off workers, compensation for injured workers, and giving workers the legal right to form and join unions.

He advocated “The Four Freedoms” that people “everywhere in the world” should have: Freedom of speech; freedom of worship; freedom from want; and freedom from fear.

Republican President Eisenhower warned us of the “military industrial complex,” ended the Korean War, raised the minimum wage, and added to Social Security.

His vice president, Nixon, when he became President, advocated a health care system similar to “Obamacare,” created the Environmental Protection Agency, and approved Title IX, giving rights to women and girls.

Even the hero of today’s Republicans, President Reagan, raised taxes and worked with Russia’s Mikhail Gorbachev to limit nuclear armament.

Hopefully, Republicans and Democrats in the Congress can follow history’s examples of cooperation in using government, not as a whipping boy, but as a tool of the people.

Serious consideration of President Obama’s modest jobs program would be a good first step.

Jack Burgess is a retired teacher of history & government, and a native of Portsmouth. His columns appear in several Ohio newspapers.