Sunday, November 9, 2008

Gore sketches America's fourth republic for Obama

Two informed articles this weekend offer an inspired context and vision for the next chapter of American history. On Friday, Michael Lind outlined the three major republics of American history over at Salon. And today in the New York Times, Al Gore seems to respond by presenting a plan for the initial phase of the fourth.

Lind's "Obama and the dawn of the Fourth Republic" argues that America's republics start with a Hamiltonian impulse to big government solutions and conclude with a period of Jeffersonian reform seeking to pare down the federal buildup. His timeline lays the hammer on the outgoing administration, putting it helplessly in a class with Hoover's and Buchanan's: 
The final president of a republic tends to be a failed, despised figure. The First Republic, which began with George Washington, ended with James Buchanan, a hapless president who refused to act as the South seceded after Lincoln's election. The Second Republic, which began with Abraham Lincoln, ended with the well-meaning but reviled and ineffectual Herbert Hoover. The Third Republic, founded by Franklin Roosevelt, came to a miserable end under the pathetic George W. Bush.
But more to the point, Lind speculates that technologies and economies of the age correspond to the cycles of political backlash:
Lincoln's Second American Republic marked a transition from an agrarian economy to one based on the technologies of the first industrial revolution -- coal-fired steam engines and railroads. Roosevelt's Third American Republic was built with the tools of the second industrial revolution -- electricity and internal combustion engines. It remains to be seen what energy sources -- nuclear? Solar? Clean coal? -- and what technologies -- nanotechnology? Photonics? Biotech-- will be the basis of the next American economy.
Al Gore presents his own five-point answer in "The Climate for Change":
Here’s what we can do — now: we can make an immediate and large strategic investment to put people to work replacing 19th-century energy technologies that depend on dangerous and expensive carbon-based fuels with 21st-century technologies that use fuel that is free forever: the sun, the wind and the natural heat of the earth.
Gore's points run the fiscal-eco-political gamut: 1) large-scale government investments in solar, wind and thermal; 2) a $400 billion dollar unified electric grid that would pay for itself in three years; 3) a package for big automakers and startups alike to accelerate hybrid auto adoption; 4) tie mortgage relief to an initiative retrofitting buildings and houses with energy-efficient insulation, windows and lighting; 5) trailblaze a Kyoto treaty replacement next year capping global carbon emissions and reducing deforestation.

Indeed, these measures summarize quite nicely the new technologies and economies that will define America's fourth republic. Together, the articles lend credence to the abundant comparisons of Obama to Lincoln and FDR, the presidents who launched the last two American republics. This means the energy and sense of change felt by most Americans isn't just real, it has a historical precedent. And noting the energetic youth engaged with Obama's presidential campaign, Gore offers a very real analogy of hope: 
In an earlier transformative era in American history, President John F. Kennedy challenged our nation to land a man on the moon within 10 years. Eight years and two months later, Neil Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface. The average age of the systems engineers cheering on Apollo 11 from the Houston control room that day was 26, which means that their average age when President Kennedy announced the challenge was 18.
If Obama challenges America, as he has and surely will, to come together and make change, just think where we could be in 10 years. The mind stretches to fathom what the unified thought and might of 300 million Americans couldn't accomplish.


Cameron L. Martindell said...

Awesome analysis. I read the Lind article earlier and loved the way he tied the parallels in history together and applied it today. It makes me wonder if learning about this sort of thing (US History) is what I missed by going to school in Germany (ask me anything about Gaul and the Roman Empire).

The next part of the formula, to get off of the turn-over cycle of starting new era-republics would be to figure out how to adjust the sequence for sustainability. Do we have to ever vote in an ineffectual president again? Can government be tweaked, if not reorganized to continue to produce men and women of Obama's character (or Washington, or Lincolin, or FDR)?

There's a fix in there somewhere and hopefully we'll take the time to learn the lesson from three previous cycles. We can find a way to bring the nation up to full steam on a track of continuous sustainable progress and keep people like Obama at the helm.

rob getzschman said...

Good point Cam, at some point, the a cycle of thesis-antithesis is supposed to resolve in a synthesis. If ever there was a point in history where necessity demanded a unity of purpose, surely it's now...

Rich Harriman said...

Another good posting Rob, and some good insight too. I think the that the old line 'if we don't learn from history it is doomed to repeat itself' applies. Cameron threw in Rome - how many cycles did they go through?

What i find most interesting is the notion that Obama has ushered in the new republic already. Has he brought some hope? optimism? the potential for a new era? Yes. I think that only history will be able to show what changes are stimulated and the affect they have. That is why it is impossible NOT to vote in an "ineffectual president" because no one can know how they will perform until they have served.

I am excited to see the ripples of the new leader, after he is thrown in the deep end and enough time has passed to see the evidence. Everybody loves a charazmatic leader, but i want to see focus - Obama has everyones' attention, now lets see some direction!