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"Nosy Congress Makes
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"Stop Trying To Make God A Republican" - 10-6-07
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January 22, 2009
Without diminishing popular support for President Obama, can’t we hope that this year’s presidential inauguration hysteria is largely over, minimizing continuing distraction from the serious problems facing the new president and our country?
There will be some, I expect, who will wish to continue the emotional celebration of a very significant turning point in American political history—the election of the first African-American president. But one hopes that Bono and Bruce Springsteen and Oprah Winfrey and like-minded liberals will now pipe down and let Obama get on with the challenge of proving that behind his style there is substance.
(I note that some news accounts—as in The World-Herald Sunday—have spoken of the election of the first “African-American,” an accurate description. Obama’s father was born in Africa and his mother in America. His lineage is African-American, not black. He is half black, half white.)
Such emotional overemphasis on presidential inaugurations is not new, of course. But in this year when the nation faces the most serious economic crisis since 1982 or perhaps the 1930s, wouldn’t it, for example, have been appropriate to have fewer than 10—that’s right, 10—inaugural balls?
I would guess that I’m not alone in wondering whether Obama has overplayed “the Abraham Lincoln card.” Traveling to Philadelphia for a train ride back to Washington, following that final leg of the path which Lincoln took to his inauguration in 1861, was a little much, it seems to me.
Lincoln, after all, was coming from his home in Springfield, Illinois on his way to Washington, traveling by rail. Obama, in contrast, had to leave Washington so he could turn around and ride a train, Lincoln-like, from Philadelphia to Washington.
Lincoln did take a leisurely path by rail in his route from Springfield to Washington, with dinner-party stops along the way and speeches to enthusiastic crowds. But he made no Washington-Philadelphia-Washington roundtrip with an eye on news media coverage and image-building.
Incidentally, the Lincoln and Obama Philadelphia-Washington trips differed in another very important way. A special train, traveling at night well ahead of the presidential special, secretly carried Lincoln to Washington to avoid a scheduled stop in Baltimore. Detective Allan Pinkerton and Army Chief of Staff General Winfield Scott both had warned Lincoln’s staff of reports that there would be an attempt to assassinate Lincoln during the scheduled stop in Baltimore.
In any case, let’s stop celebrating and wholeheartedly give our history-making forty-fourth President the support he proves worthy of.
* * *
As I see it, an appropriate message for Governor Dave Heineman these days might be: “Looking good, Dave, looking good. Keep it up.”
My comments are inspired by two stories that appeared in The World-Herald in the past week.
Of fundamental importance to Nebraskans and the public agencies which serve them was the governor’s tighten-the-belt state budget submitted to the Legislature. With a good many other public agencies scrambling to find funds or cut spending, Heineman proposed a budget proposing a 1.8% average increase in spending over the next two years, in the face of what Heineman called “one of the greatest financial challenges of our lifetime.”
Although tight, the budget still would allow an increase of $100 million in state aid to local school districts and $17 million for improvements at the Beatrice State Development Center, continue property tax credits at $150 million a year and reserve $200 million to meet major potential liabilities.
The second news story carried this headline: “No job’s too small or big for governor” then gave some examples of the “high-energy” governor at work. I especially liked this example:
When Heineman learned that auto parts maker Tenneco was considering closing some factories, including one in Cozad in Central Nebraska, the next morning he placed a call to Tenneco’s chief executive officer.
Heineman said he asked what Nebraska might do to keep the 500 jobs in Cozad. He dispatched a delegation to Michigan to meet with company executives.
Last week, the state received word that Cozad would keep its Tenneco plant, at least for the next year.
* * *
No need for me to go into the details of accomplishments of Dr. Lee Simmons, who has directed the building of Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo into a world-class institution and, at 70, plans to step aside as director while continuing to serve the zoo as money-raising chairman of the Omaha Zoo Foundation.
Simmons’ achievements as director of Omaha’s zoo were well chronicled in a major story in The Sunday World-Herald. I especially enjoyed the following example of Simmons’—and his family’s—total commitment to the zoo.
“I can remember when the nursery was my living room. My daughter, an orangutan and a gorilla were all in diapers and on a bottle at the same time.”
* * *
I take sad note of the death of Bob Knoll, a dear friend who served Nebraska with great distinction.
Knoll died recently at 86, leaving what a World-Herald editorial described as “an indelible impression on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the state as a whole.”
Bob Knoll was a valued friend, in the class a year ahead of me at Omaha North High School and, like me, an English major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Bob Knoll’s achievements as a distinguished member of the UNL faculty were legion. It may be that he will be best remembered for his definitive history of UNL, published in 1995 under the title “Prairie University.”
Bob and I had the happy occasion to work closely together in a successful effort to see that the Nebraska Hall of Fame includes Charles Bessey. Bessey was a superb teacher, researcher and administrator who played the leading role in the early years of development of that “prairie university” into an institution of great service to Nebraskans and outreach beyond Nebraska in terms of putting the results of agricultural research in the hands of farmers across the nation.
I like to think that Bob, in his final months, found satisfaction in the fact that he had helped assure that Charles Bessey received Hall of Fame recognition in the state in which Bessey had accomplished so much—an example, one might suggest, for Bob himself in later years.
* * *
It didn’t surprise me to learn that I’m not the only one fed up with saturation coverage and recoverage of the story of Robert Hawkins and his murderous rampage which killed eight people at the Von Maur department store more than a year ago.
Now I haven’t conducted a poll, but based on comments which have come my way, including letters from readers, I’ve concluded that more than a few people would rather read about state government action to keep young potential killers off the streets rather than relive the details of the Von Maur killings yet again.
A Norfolk reader put it this way:
“Yes, Nebraska is in need of places that can provide mental health care, possibly called ‘regional centers.’” (Columnist’s note: Norfolk has fought successfully to keep such a regional center open in that community.)
“Just a couple of short years ago, there was a strong push to close regional centers and move troubled people into the ‘community.’ It remains a difficult situation for many communities. The other institution you mentioned was the orphanage, I agree that a well-run facility would be much better for many youth than a series of foster homes.”
* * *
Herewith a touch of variety. Today’s column has been pretty serious so far.
A question occurred to me when I happened to see a “renovated” Katie Couric Sunday evening during a brief newscast at halftime of the Pittsburgh Steelers-Baltimore Ravens NFL playoff game.
Will a new hairdo, new makeup—and an occasional glimpse of those legs made famous on the NBC morning show—be enough to save Katie Couric’s job as anchorwoman on the CBS evening news show?A recent news story reported that CBS Evening News show, anchored by Couric, had sunk to its lowest viewer ratings ever.
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