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Nichols: Obamas fireside chats could be teaching moments
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As a preteen in the 1930s, my first contact with politics came when I joined my family in front of the Philco radio in our living room to listen to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s "fireside chats." Most Americans did the same thing.

I wonder if President Barack Obama could initiate a similar program where once a month he would speak directly via television to the citizens explaining how government is working on a particular problem? Perhaps the president could substitute this television moment for one of his weekly radio addresses.

I do not think the recent flap over his address to the schoolchildren of the nation would make the president hesitate to undertake similar chats on television because he has a good team of writers and he can be very effective in his delivery.

The president could make a presentation alone, or have a guest with whom he could exchange ideas. This would be an opportunity to show to the nation efforts to look at both pro and con aspects of a controversial issue.

The president could invite a member of his cabinet or congressional leader of either party to lay out options for the president and our citizens to consider. I would like to see what somebody like Ross Perot would do with the president’s plans that promised not to require an increase in taxes but which could possibly add trillions of dollars to our national debt.

Other chat topics might focus on how the president sees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Is our prime objective only to fight terrorism, or are we in those countries with the mission to build each country into a nation with democratic values and processes?

We went into our current war in Iraq with the belief that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. We wanted a "regime change" to get rid of Saddam, and that mission was accomplished. However there were no weapons of mass destruction found anywhere in Iraq. So why are we still there?

Afghanistan was once governed by the Taliban who supported Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida and the 9/11 attack on the U.S. If we ended the war and the Taliban returned to power, do we think there is a real clear and present danger that they might support another terrorist attack on the U.S?

Personally, I do not see any current threat to our national security that would justify continuing both of these wars. I could be wrong. Perhaps the president could invite the head of the CIA to discuss current security threats. However that evidence would have to be overwhelming for me to change my mind.

Anti-American terrorists do not need a complicated plot to fly airplanes into buildings in order to kill Americans. All they need is a match and some dry landscape as in California.

Other less controversial topics for future chats might include a discussion of how a bill is written, by whom, and then introduced into Congress. The president could describe the committee system and how the versions of the House and the Senate have to be edited into a single version before being sent to him for signature or veto. This is Political Science 101, but I bet it is not well understood by a lot of our citizens.

Other background topics that might have general interest could include our judicial system. President Obama might discuss the legal process in both our federal and state courts. For that chat, he could ask the Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts to join him in discussing the legal process in the United States and what might be done to improve that process.

I think the senior citizens and many of the about to retire baby boomers would like a clear description of how the Social Security Act of 1935 was supposed to help seniors in our old age. Is the whole Social Security system in danger of going broke in the near future?

The same concerned citizens would be interested in what is happening to Medicare. In 2008 the Medicare Board of Trustees reported that the program’s hospital insurance trust fund could run out of money by 2017. Why?

Aristotle taught that the source of wisdom is the search for answers to the basic question of "why." If we add "how" to that why question, we have a chance to gain better understanding of our national self.

President Obama could become our national teacher in chief, if he wants to assume that role.

Tom Nichols is a retired college professor who lives in Gainesville. His column appears regularly and on gainesvilletimes.com.

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