Don’t go quietly, Mr. President | Inquirer Opinion

Don’t go quietly, Mr. President

/ 12:08 AM October 13, 2014

When we came to New York City a few weeks ago, we expected to find ourselves in the balmy climate of a lame-duck presidency. We expected to find President Barack Obama gray-haired and worn-out after six years in office, his days of glory gone, his supporters turned critics in great numbers, and he himself simply running out the clock until his term ends in just about two years.

In such a peaceful laid-back time we planned to visit our daughter and other family members and old friends at Fordham University, drive through the mountains when the leaves turn auburn, yellow and flaming red; visit the graves of our loved ones, watch the New York Giants return to greatness, visit the great museums of the city and the Bronx Zoo, and perhaps be able to see again the old gorilla in the special Congo exhibit, leaning against the glass of the exhibit and looking at each person who goes near him, as if he were expecting an old friend to come calling. Who is he waiting for?

Imagine our surprise then when we watched President Obama a few days after we arrived tell the General Assembly of the United Nations that the United States was the “indispensable nation” and that he and the United States were ready to lead the world of nations in three major problem areas—the ebola epidemic, the Ukraine-Russia conflict and, most urgently, the mission to destroy the Islamic State and bring peace to the Middle East. It was not the action of a lame-duck president, but of a man determined to make use of all the resources he has in one final crusade. He has taken the three major problems that face the world and made them his own special concerns, knowing no doubt these problems would dominate the remainder of his years in office and would be his final legacy to history.


James Mann, writing in the New York Times (9/23/14), claims people tend to look on their presidents toward the end of their terms of office as lackluster, exhausted and uninteresting. He says this may reflect the people’s own attitudes more than reality. It isn’t so much that the president is tiresome and uninspiring as that the citizens are tired of him after listening to him every day for years.


Mann rejects the theory of lame-duck presidents. He writes:

“Ronald Reagan’s most significant diplomacy with Mikhail S. Gorbachev, which contributed to the end of the Cold War, took place in his final two years. In Mr. Clinton’s final two years, he paved the way for China’s entry into the World Trade Organization, cementing the international economic order we have today, and began military action in Kosovo without obtaining approval by the United Nations Security Council, thus setting a precedent for similar American military actions since. Mr. Bush’s last two years saw the ‘surge’ of American troops into Iraq, altering the course of the war there, the largest financial bailout in the nation’s history, and the signing of the agreement with Iraq to remove American forces at the end of 2011.”

President Aquino can be a classic do-little lame-duck president and merely shepherd the candidacy of his choice toward the presidency. On the other hand, he possesses enormous resources and public support—and it would be tragic if he doesn’t put them to good use. Further, by now he knows how to use presidential power.

Can he do something similar to what President Obama has done? Can he pick out the two or three problems he thinks are at the heart of national progress and dedicate his remaining time as president to solving those problems? The words Dylan Thomas addressed to his dying father can be addressed to President Aquino: “Do not go quietly into that dark night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Basic manufacturing is something the President can work on. It seems to be the best way to provide jobs for many of largely unskilled and unemployed workers the country has. Jobs are the answer to poverty. Can investment funds be channeled away from real estate and luxury housing to basic manufacturing?

Another area the President should look into, where he may be the only person who can help put things right, is the country’s bureaucracy. The country’s antipoverty programs as legislated are generally timely and useful, and the poor and other beneficiaries are deserving. The reasons the programs don’t have greater impact lie in the bureaucracy, the men and women who man the country’s national and local agency offices. These men and women seem opposed to and resent any change. To the poor they appear greedy—and totally unconcerned about outcomes. A small housing program on San Miguel Estero, for example, required 200 meetings between the poor and the bureaucracy. The bureaucracy has been the graveyard of the hopes of millions of our poor people for a decent life.


If the President has time left, he may take a look at Metro Manila’s traffic problem, which, if nothing is done, will close down businesses, factories and schools and everything else that

creates a mature society. If he looks with fresh eyes, he will see the only rational start for solving the problem is to cut the number of private cars in half and begin a better bus transport system. There are models we can follow. In Singapore, government charges such a high fee for the use of cars in the downtown area that many owners give up the use of their cars. Singapore, of course, also has a fine public system.

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Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates ([email protected]).

TAGS: Ebola, jobs, manufacturing, nation, news, traffic congestion

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