If there’s one thing that Americans are good at, it’s nation-building. We’ve done a lot to build up our allies and even our former foes. We helped the Japanese come out of their own defeat and our investments abroad during the Cold War helped turn the tide against the Soviet Union.
In his campaign for a second term, the president called for nation-building at home. Here are a few past American leaders that he could look to for inspiration.
1. Alexander Hamilton
In all of American history, there’s perhaps no one more responsible for making America what it is today than Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton pushed for a national bank, federally-funded infrastructure projects and protectionism to develop American manufacturing. A new national bank would be an idea worth looking into – the president could fund a lot of his own initiatives in other areas by borrowing money not from Tokyo, Berlin or Beijing, but from the American people in the form of a bond drive.
2. Henry Clay
I might be a bit biased here in that Clay hails from the Commonwealth, but nevertheless, the three–time presidential candidate and mentor to Abraham Lincoln would be a good fit for the president’s drive to revitalize American infrastructure. While speaker of the house and as a senator from Kentucky, Clay proposed the “American System,” building on Hamilton’s proposals with a strong emphasis on “internal improvements.” We desperately need to update our infrastructure, and the president would be wise to look into Henry Clay’s “American System” for tips on how to get it done.
3. Abraham Lincoln
Another great Kentuckian (don’t let the Illinoisians fool you), President Abraham Lincoln not only defeated the Confederacy and restored rule of law in the south, but also built a transcontinental railroad in the midst of it all. Lincoln also wasn’t afraid to raise taxes on the wealthy to finance it. Higher taxes on the rich and railroads stretching across the country? Sign me up.
4. Franklin D. Roosevelt
As if beating polio, the Great Depression and Hitler weren’t enough, FDR also found time to build schools, parks, roads and bridges during his time in office. A stimulus program that did all that and more is something Obama has tackled before, but economists argue that it’s been too small. The president should go big, just like FDR’s New Deal did in the 1930s.
There are many ways to tear a nation down but few to build one up. Here’s hoping the president learns the right lessons from American history.
Column by Devin Griggs, Opinion Editor. Devin serves as vice president of finances for the Murray State College Democrats.