By Ken Trainor
Barack Obama's speech about jobs last Thursday night reminded me of an Ivan Reitman film from 1993, a forgotten gem titled simply, Dave. I pulled out my old VHS copy and watched it the other night. It stars Kevin Kline in the role of a temp agency owner (he finds jobs for people), who moonlights as a double for the president of the United States because he's a dead-ringer (hey, it's a Hollywood fantasy).
When the president has a massive stroke, Dave is asked to continue playing the commander in chief for a while "for the good of the country."
The imposter turns out to be a much better president than the man he's impersonating, and he begins to leverage his newfound power. He calls a press conference and his statement echoes and complements our current president's, which is interesting since the film came out almost 20 years ago.
But the movie president takes it a step further. Dave says he's going to use the government "to find a job for every American who wants one."
"Have you ever seen the look on somebody's face," he says, "on the day they finally get a job? I've had some experience with this. They look like they could fly. It's not about the paycheck. It's about respect. It's about looking in the mirror and knowing that you've done something valuable with your day. And if one person can start to feel that way, and another person and another person, then all those problems we're facing may not seem so impossible. You don't really know what you can do until you stand up and decide to try."
It's not as simple as all that, of course, but that provides a more personal underpinning to our current president's efforts. It's not just a matter of "how the economy is doing." We seem to have forgotten the impact joblessness has on millions of unemployed people — capable people who have something to offer and want to work. The media, our clueless Congress, and the rest of us, really, have forgotten how important work is to human dignity.
At the core of everything that means anything to us is the dignity of the individual. All individuals. This country has lost a lot of dignity — not just recently, but over the last three decades as the gap between the rich and the rest of us widened unforgivably.
The night before President Obama's speech, my son and I got together to talk about his situation. He's 27 and working, thank God, but he said what he really wants is "a job I can hang my hat on," one he can feel proud of, one that is meaningful, that makes a contribution.
Isn't that what most of us want? Isn't that especially what we want for our kids?
The Republicans in Congress will do everything they can to undermine, weaken and generally sabotage President Obama's jobs proposal, and that is to their everlasting shame. While they fiddle and prolong the suffering of people, however, it's important for the rest of us to remind them just how important jobs are to human dignity.
Not all work and not all working conditions promote dignity, of course, but that's a discussion for another time. In the meantime, if you think this country is "on the wrong track" or needs to be "turned around," the place to begin is protecting and promoting the dignity of the individual and using that to build, person by person, the common good.
Those are our fundamentals. Whether you're a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green or Independent, that much we should be able to agree on.
As it stands, our culture has followed the direction of the economy for the last 30 years. Everything from reality TV shows to commercial advertising to social media belittle people and dehumanize them. Think about that the next time you watch a TV commercial or read an online comment board.
This isn't about politics and profits and popularity polls. This is about the look on a person's face the day he or she gets a job.
They look like they could fly.
Who are we to tell them they can't?