In 1956, Adlai Stevenson inspired me to get involved in politics. I honed my public speaking abilities on the streets of New York in support of his campaigns for president, first in 1952 and again in 1956.
My law office was at 52 Wall Street. Every day at noon, I would stand on the steps of the U.S. Subtreasury Building at the corner of Wall and Nassau Streets where I would address the hundred or more mostly New York Stock Exchange employees having their lunch.
One day, a cop came by and asked me for my permit to speak. I told him, "You don't need a permit, officer, unless you use a sound-enhancing device."
Not agreeing with my interpretation of the law, he said, "Move along, or I'll arrest you." I replied, "Officer, look across the street." There, every day, hell, fire and brimstone ministers — then known as holy rollers — were waving Bibles and haranguing people to accept Jesus as their lord and savior, and did so for hours.
I said to the police officer, "You don't ask them for permits." He replied, "They're different. They're fanatics. Move along!" And so I did. I have never been a fanatic. I am a liberal with sanity.
Despite my best efforts, however, Stevenson lost to Dwight Eisenhower on both occasions. On reflection, many Stevenson supporters, myself included, would say today that the country was better off under Eisenhower than it would have been under Stevenson. Our candidate was a great orator, but probably — we'll never know for certain — not so effective at getting things done.
It has been nearly a year since President Obama took office, and the question many are asking is "how effective has he been?"
I am disappointed in some of our president's actions and comments. For example, I do not think — and 61 percent of Americans feel the same way — that he should have accepted the Nobel Peace Prize. He, too, said he didn't deserve the prize.
In my judgment, he should have urged the Nobel Committee to give the award to the Iranian protesters on the streets of Tehran and to the opposition leaders, who were being beaten and tortured by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's bully boys in a manner reminiscent of Hitler's storm troopers in the streets of Berlin in the 1930s.
The Nobel Prize committee apparently wanted to focus attention on the need for peace, and they believed, as I believe, that President Obama's rhetoric certainly does that and inspires others to work for peace.
Yes, the President's speech in Oslo was brilliant, but imagine the reaction he would have received if he had referred to the Iranian protesters risking and sometimes paying with their lives by repeatedly taking to the streets in defiance of Ahmadinejad and his supporters.
However, in my view the president's greatest failures so far have been his deciding to send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan and his failure to go after the financial industry that almost brought the U.S. to its knees. He addressed both issues in an interview with Steve Kroft on "60 Minutes" last Sunday, and he was excellent on both.
While I don't agree with the president's decision on the Afghanistan war, I respect his willingness to do what he believes to be right, even if that is unpopular.
Last week, the House of Representatives passed a bill, which the president supports, seeking to regulate Wall Street excesses. The president has called Wall Street "fat cats" to the White House to chastise them.
I believe the President should do more. He should instruct his Attorney General, Eric Holder, that one of his highest priorities should be holding criminally liable those who engaged in illegal activities on Wall Street that nearly caused our banking system and, indeed, our entire economy to collapse. Those people, in their frenzy to get rich, endangered this country. If they committed crimes, they should be prosecuted.
Several of my friends believe I have been too hard on President Obama. I disagree.
There is without a doubt much to admire in this president. For example, he is, in my view, the best public speaker since Adlai Stevenson. But speeches, even when well delivered, are a dime a dozen. It is action, putting yourself on the line, that counts.
I am for the comprehensive healthcare legislation now before the U.S. Senate, no matter how deficient it is when ultimately passed. It will have some major, positive long-needed changes, e.g., requiring the coverage of 30 million more people, eliminating the right of insurance companies to reject applicants because of their medical conditions, and portability of the insurance on changing jobs.
Other major needed provisions, e.g., a government competitor, volume discounts for Medicare prescription drug purchases, and others have been eliminated from the bill, but can be added on after the bill becomes law, or better still, in conference with the Senate.
Am I too hard on President Obama? I don't think so. Intelligent and responsible criticism plays a positive role, and sometimes produces change.
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