Vail Daily letter: Suck it up and get to work
Dear President Obama,
After waking up Wednesday morning, I am sure you could be forgiven for thinking that the world had come to an end. Having said this, please bear in mind that those newly elected lawmakers may be thinking quite the contrary. So I guess you could say that as a good starting point, both of you agree on something — that the status quo is in for somewhat of a shakeup.
You might be forgiven too for thinking that two years is not enough time to get much done, especially considering how much opposition you are facing. You have a big job (and not a very well paid one for I note you make about half the annual salary as the Australian leader, Prime Minister Abbott) and I don’t want to pile too many more expectations on you, but after all you did take on this job (twice) so I ask you again, with all due respect, to suck up this “loss” and get on with the job that you and the rest of the nation’s leaders have agreed to do — act in the best interests of us all.
I am an American/Australian and because of that I get to have heroes from both countries. As a child who grew up in the segregated South and found my soul as a teenager in the great upheaval of the ’60s, your election to the presidency was a pivotal moment in my life. So although it may be too soon to call you a hero, certainly your ascension to this high office was heroic. It may have slipped your notice, what with the election and all, that a great Australian hero died recently at the age of 98. Gough Whitlam was prime minister for three years in the 1970s and beloved (and berated) for decades.
I bring his passing up for two reasons — one as a reminder of the length of his tenure and two because I believe you may find that you have a lot in common. In those three years he managed to introduce and get through Parliament: Medibank (the beginning of Australian universal health care) and the Trade Practices Act, the tariff protections, and introduced no-fault divorce and while he was at it set up the Family Law Court,the Federal Court, federal legal aid, the Racial Discrimination Act, needs-based schools funding, the abolition of conscription, the law reform commission, student financial assistance, the Heritage Commission, non-discriminatory immigration rules, community health clinics, Aboriginal land rights and lowered the minimum voting age to 18 years.
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I might point out he did this while coping with a hateful opposition, recalcitrant states and fractious bickering and back stabbing within his own party as well as a malevolent media. He was also quite tall and, oh yes, he was elected with some of the highest expectations a political leader has had to carry. You can see the similarities. While Whitlam gave us leadership that demonstrated “the textbook case of reform trumping management” on his death Gough gave us something else — he gave us the opportunity for Noel Pearson, another great Australian and Bagaarrmugu and Guggu Yalanji man, to deliver one of the most memorable eulogies of all time. I have attached the link for your convenience, bit.ly/whitlameulogy, and humbly suggest you take a minute to listen to it as I think it reflects what I believe is the essence of leadership, especially leadership under pressure.
It might come in handy when your staff, the “other side” or even when Fox News, says that two years is not enough time to get anything done. Granted it took “this old man” Gough Whitlam three years, but you have a running start. (It is customary in indigenous culture to not speak or write the name of the deceased. You will find Mr. Pearson honors this custom when he refers to former Prime Minister Whitlam as “this old man”. It is not asign of disrespect.) You seem a real champion and I know you will give the next two years a red hot go. I look forward to our continuing correspondence and wish you all the best.