Going To Hell #999: Maybe We're Not

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As soon as I find a video link to President Obama's comments just now on passage of the health-care reform bill, I will put it up and say a little more about his theme and performance. (Hint: I will welcome and thank anyone who can send such a link.) Listening to it in real time, I was struck by the forcefulness of the ending, which was less about the health-care issue itself than about the overall question of how the American political system can deal with largest-scale public challenges. It was as passionate as I have heard this always-"cool" character ever sound on any theme. Update: thanks to reader Jeffrey Schroeder, the link is here, and an embedded player is below. The whole thing is effective, but the part I'm referring to begins just before time 14:00 and runs for the next two minutes. Very last words of the speech are unfortunate, but otherwise...

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The question is of interest to me because of the fundamental "Is America going to hell" issue I raised in this article -- and have discussed in a series of reader "going to hell" responses that I was posting last month. Until our "categories" feature is repaired, I can't do a link to the whole series; after the jump, and thanks to reader Joshua Cypess, a list of specific item links.

I have many more responses in the queue, which I'll rev up again soon.  For the moment, one more reader response. This is part of a note sent by a political veteran, now in private business, to his Democratic Congressmen, who has decided not to run for re-election and was one of the "undecideds" until the very end. The note was written just a day before the vote; a day after the vote, it's worth reflecting on this passage. It alludes to the late professor Richard Neustadt, the great theorist of presidential power. From the letter urging the Representative to vote for the bill:

What are the consequences for the country if the President and Congressional Democrats fail on tomorrow's vote? Professor Richard Neustadt did a good job teaching generations of students (including me) that the president's power to accomplish things in the future is always driven by his success or failure in getting things done today. It's terribly unfortunate that we find ourselves in the awful and presumably once-avoidable situation that we do today. It's terrible that the mess in Congress has driven out or otherwise cost us thoughtful Members such as you. But, having said all that, I can't see any good for the country coming from losing the vote tomorrow. I can see a whole lot of harm.  I'm sure you can, too.

It may be galling for you to "reward" the Leadership, the White House, the bill's proponents with your vote. But I hope you'd find it abhorrent to reward the other side.

This Representative finally voted "Aye."
________

Here are links to some previous "going to hell" items. This isn't formatted that well, but I'm not going to take the trouble to clean it up right now. We'll have our Categories again some day!

http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2010/01/on-whether-america-is-going-to-hell/33387/

http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2010/02/going-to-hell-2/35730/

http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2010/02/going-to-hell-2a/35930/

http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2010/02/going-to-hell-3/35757/

http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2010/02/going-to-hell-4/35677/

http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2010/02/going-to-hell-5/35942/

http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2010/02/going-to-hell-6-revenge-of-the-boomers/36031/

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/02/going-to-hell-7-a-different-way-to-choose-the-congress/36295/

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/03/going-to-hell-8-maybe-its-later-than-we-think/36938/

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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