Walking through Lincoln Woods, we emerged onto Great Road in Lincoln, RI. Looking for a place to warm up, we happened upon Arnold House and took the short tour with a member of the historical society. It was built in 1693 and originally called by the local residents “Eleazer’s Splendid Mansion” after its first owner and builder, Eleazer Arnold, who farmed the surrounding 140 acres. His splendid mansion even after additions over the years is insignificant compared to the overwrought and pretentious McMansion of the early twenty first century. Gracefully proportioned lines fit perfectly with a New England landscape. “Stone-enders” modeled the former homes in western England of the seventeenth century immigrants. The west end of those houses consists of three feet of four to fourteen inch stones laid tightly and mortared together; the remainder of the structure was wood post and beam framed with wooden pegs and hand forged nails. Leaded glass windows were small to be more easily defensible from indigenous raiders and to limit winter air leaks around the glass. Many of the original wide pine boards, the oak carrying beams and three fire scorched stone fireplaces with their stone hearths are still in place.
The massive stone end is coated on the exterior with local white limestone mortar and tapers from bottom to top, providing vents for multiple walk in fireplaces – one on each floor. The west end orientation in England presented a staunch bulwark to retain heat and defeat the prevailing winds. In Lincoln, the stone faces to the west as well, paying no heed to the fiercest storms in New England blowing in from the northeast. Even though the Arnolds had lived in early Rhode Island for over twenty years, apparently common sense and local conditions had little chance against traditional practices. The Rhode Island stone-ender is a metaphor for the human condition of “this is the way we do it because this is the way it is done.”
“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” William Arthur Ward
Returning back through the New England woods, I was struck by the persistence of this metaphor in many aspects of our culture and especially in government. The “audacity of hope” is a conspicuous illustration. In 2008 Barack Obama railed against the dysfunction in Washington that he was going to remedy. Two groups were singled out: “the typical politician playing the same old tired cynical games,” craving reelection fund money and the oft maligned lobbyists who used “money and influence (to) drown out people’s voices.” Reiterating this catchphrase incessantly, he boasted that his campaign had not taken a dime from lobbyists or Political Action Committees. He would shun special interest donations to his campaign and find his money from “the working men and women who dug into what little savings they had to give five and ten dollars to this cause. Supporters had an opportunity to rally around, “Not this year. Not this time!” Together with Obama, they could build “a nation healed. A world repaired. And an America that believes again.” Thrilling and “fundamentally changing America” with “hope and change.”
“Hope is a soufflé that doesn’t rise twice.” Bill Galston, Deputy Assistant on Domestic Policy to President Clinton and Senior Fellow of the Brookings Institute
This glittering vision was built on carefully parsed sentences that skirted the truth. He broke George W. Bush’s fund raising records by a large margin. Bush’s money came from big fossil fuel energy, the defense industry and doctors. Obama did collect from his little guys and his website; however the foundation of his finances came from Wall Street, Silicon Valley and lawyers. His largest contributors were corporations, large universities, government agencies, their employees and the immediate family of owners or employees; among them were University of California, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Microsoft, Google, IBM, General Electric, Morgan Stanley and the U.S. Government (especially the Department of Justice). Millions also were raised by “bundlers” in frequent fundraisers attended by President, and from Planned Parenthood and the unions, especially the Service Employees International Union. Not their lobbyists, but direct from the source. One of the most influential lobbyists on K Street in Washington is Tony Podesta. He said, “Obama doesn’t really mean it, and we’re not taking any of it personally. We’ll be back to business as usual after the election.” This proved prophetic understatement.
Another prominent lobbyist put it this way: Obama talks about special interests and their hired guns, but then he only bans the hired guns. “It was like boycotting a criminal lawyer, then going partying with the defendant.” The access to the White House by these bundlers and companies is well documented – not quite sleeping in the Lincoln bedroom, but immediate admittance nonetheless.
The dirty little truth about most legislation on the federal and state level is that it is usually written by staffers and lobbyists in small ad hoc committees. Much of the convoluted 2,400 page Obamacare Affordable Care bill was drafted on behalf of the administration by the staff of retiring Democrat Senator Max Baucus, who over the years received $3.8 million in health care industry campaign contributions. In order to secure sufficient Democrat support in both houses, it was necessary to forge two major agreements with the interests that provide the money for the new reality of “perpetual campaigns.” The first deal was cut with the health care industry shutting down any one payer government competition and conscripting for the insurance companies millions of new subscribers. The second one guaranteed “big pharma” would not face government negotiations for lower Medicare drug costs and banned importation of competitive Canadian products. Without these arrangements, costing taxpayers billions, the ACA Obamacare bill never would have been enacted. A senior advisor to the president was heard to say, “Obama has just caved without firing a shot.”
Timothy Geithner, Treasure Secretary at the time, wrote the white paper upon which much of the second major piece of Obama’s first term was based, the Dodd-Frank banking regulation bill, which enshrined in law the “too big to fail” protections for big banks and financial institutions. During the writing of this bill, Mr. Geithner met or spoke with Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, the second largest campaign contributor, thirty eight times, eight times as often as he met with either Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi. And so it goes.
A cynic might say that the Barack Obama of Valerie Jarrett, Rahm Emmanuel, Rod Blagojevich and the old Daley Chicago machine is a clever charlatan, well trained in Illinois money and power politics. Or is it that his aloof (some would contend disinterested) and inexperienced management style left him defenseless to the big money ways of Washington? Like a man in a dream standing on the beach watching his youthful ideals drown, and wondering why he had forgotten how to swim.
“He is trying to recapture his innocence, yet all he succeeds in doing is to inoculate the world with his disillusionment.” Henry Miller
 Many of these quotes are taken from “Time to Start Thinking – America in the Age of Descent” 2012 Grove Press by Edward Luce 2012. Mr. Luce is a long time journalist with the Financial Times of London.