President Barack Obama ended his first prime time press conference on the "I" word.
"When I hear people just saying we don't need to do anything...then what I get a sense of is that there is some ideological blockage there that needs to be cleared up."
The ideological "blockage" the President's talking about is about as big as it gets.
Whose nation is this, what's its treasure to be used for and who gets to decide? Essentially, that's the tussle we're talking about and it's the ideological baggage our nation's been carrying around since its start.
When an earlier senator from Illinois gave what came to be known as the Gettysburg Address conservatives hated it.
As Willmoore Kendall, a leading conservative from the mid 1900s, wrote of Abraham Lincoln: "he attempted a new act of founding, involving a startling new interpretation of that principle of the founders which declared that all men are created equal."
"We should not allow him...to 'steal' the game," Kendall wrote. Kendall's quoted in Mike Lux's new book, the Progressive Revolution, just out.
As Lux points out, what conservatives hated about Gettysburg was the proposition that equality was a central principle of US government. They didn't like the idea of a government by a single people, rather than a collection of elites. They certainly rejected the notion that US government should be a government of the people, by the people for the people. They didn't like that.
Into the 21st Century, we're hardly beyond rule by elites. You only have to witness the victory of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, friend of elite bankers, over Congressional leaders and administration officials in designing the bank bailout to know that. (The second gush of bailout money up to elites will be as generous and un-onerous as the first -- at least on banks.)
Nor are we yet one nation -- at least when it comes to paying taxes. Not if the evasive habits of cabinet nominees are anything to go by.
But the notion that government has a responsibility to serve the common good -- by stimulus spending if necessary -- is exactly what has conservatives freaked. Private sector panic that government might spend to benefit the public: that's an ideological blockage that's as old as the country itself.
Looking back, the picture's not pretty. After Gettysburg came a spurt of Reconstruction that benefited equality and the public good. Almost immediately, came reaction. Conservatives won out, ending Reconstruction, selling out African Americans, and setting up the structures in place that we are so familiar with, namely white dominance over blacks, and corporate dominance over we the people and our government.
All these years on, we need economic, cultural and ideological reconstruction fast. To get there, that "blockage" can't be only a footnote. It's the central feature. If the 21st Century's going to turn out differently, and the US is to survive as a nation, Barack Obama needs to pick that baggage up that and empty it out.