The president is the one to provide the leadership in reversing the rising number of Americans who are relying on the federal, state and local governments, as well as the tens of thousands of nonprofits, for their basic subsistence.
A significant part of the president's involvement should be to get to the cause as to why there are tens of millions of Americans dependent on others for food, fuel, clothing, healthcare and housing. He will need to differentiate those whose plights were the result of a catastrophic event - caused by a natural disaster, fire, sickness or accident, lifelong disability or aging. For these, America has held out its safety net in years past and will into the future.
However, this is not why we are losing the War on Poverty.
It has been reported that in America, 40 percent of all newborns do not have a father at home. Layer onto this statistic, the fact that 70 percent of high school graduates are not ready for college. Upward mobility is nearly impossible. When it is more financially rewarding to stay at home and receive the plethora of benefits currently available what sense is there to work - a single parent with two children can obtain $57,000 in benefits while at home. A working single parent also with two children, would need to earn close to $70,000 to match what someone receives from the government and nonprofit organizations.
By not addressing this issue over the years, we have hijacked individual incentive and the government and nonprofits have become enablers, thus eliminating the character trait of responsibility. What politician would dare to change the status quo? Upward mobility for their constituents is not in the politician's toolbox.
The other war, the War on Drugs, is also a lost cause and will only get worse without the president's intervention.
Mr. Obama will be called upon to determine if legalization is the answer. He may be tempted, by the billions of tax dollars that would flow to the U.S. Treasury, by having cocaine, heroine and marijuana sold at controlled stores, not unlike liquor is now. The cost of enforcement and incarceration would plummet. Why is it that no one has addressed the cost of having to provide healthcare to millions of drug-addicted teenagers and adults who would be obtaining their drugs "legally"?
Mr. President, 11 years into the War on Drugs your predecessor's wife, First Lady Nancy Reagan announced to America's youth, "Just Say No." Unfortunately her words were not heeded. Covert military operations, border enforcement, anti-drug education, have not stemmed the flow. We are losing this 41 year-old war.
There is one thing the president can do "outside the box" to cause a major headache to the world's drug dealers - he can issue an executive order to change the color of the U.S. currency from Green to Blue (or some other color).
The biggest challenge within the drug cartels is how to unload their warehouses, which are ladened with U.S. currency. The money laundering part of their operations is paramount and the most difficult. In February of the year of the change, anyone holding on to green U.S. currency would have it exchanged for the newly issued "blue currency." Inconvenient and costly, yes, but not unlike standing in line at airports while going through security - also inconvenient and costly but necessary and successful. A side benefit of course would be the unraveling of the underground economy, now in the hundreds of billions of dollars.
Mr. President, what we need to bring these wars to an end are two things - your involvement and new strategies.
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington.