President Obama takes questions during a campaign-style town hall meeting in Elkhart, Indiana on Monday.
Just hours ago, an $838 billion economic recovery bill cleared the Senate in a 61-37 roll call vote.
Now, after all the over-strategizing, finger-pointing, vote-speculating, speech-making and line-item-slashing that has followed President Barack Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan through both chambers of Congress, one would think that a short breather might be in order.
Not today. At 2:30 this afternoon - just 120 minutes after this major milestone - conferees from both the House and the Senate began hammering out the differences between their two versions of the stimulus, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) saying that he hopes to have the "first cut" by tomorrow afternoon.
If you're thinking, "Wow, what a turnaround," consider the barrage of other stimulus-related headlines that have been beamed out of Washington lately. Over just the past few days, we've heard President Obama ratchet up his rhetoric on Capitol Hill with words like "catastrophe" and "lost decade." We've seen images of him hosting intimate Oval Office meetings with on-the-fence moderate Republicans. And of course, there's the video from yesterday of his campaign-esque town hall meeting in Elkhart, Indiana - a setting that was tailor-made for photo ops with President Obama speaking behind a giant banner emblazoned with the words "Making America Work."
If all of this means anything, it's that the bully pulpit is back.
Just like President Theodore Roosevelt (who of course coined the phrase), President Obama has both realized and started tapping like mad the unrivaled platform that comes along with the American presidency. But, as he continues to influence Congress from afar and get the results that we all need, it's imperative that we as preservationists continue to stress the importance of our mission every chance we get.
As an example, in his first-ever White House press conference last night, President Obama had this to say about our nation's aging schools:
Education - yet another example. The suggestion is why should the federal government be involved in school construction. Well, I visited a school down in South Carolina that was built in the 1850s. Kids are still learning in that school, as best they can. When the railroad - it's right next to a railroad, and when the train runs by, the whole building shakes and the teacher has to stop teaching for a while. The auditorium is completely broken down; they can't use it. So why wouldn't we want to build state-of-the-art schools with science labs that are teaching our kids the skills they need for the 21st century, that will enhance our economy and, by the way, right now will create jobs?
In some ways, I think President Obama is dead on in his answer. Besides, who would argue for anything but the best for our children and the learning facilities that they report to each day? What I find unfortunate about his response, though, is the wall it builds between old and "state of the art." As we all know, those two things aren't mutually exclusive.
Like the charming historic storefronts that make our Main Streets places where we want to bring friends and spend time, our older and historic schools are places that add character and livelihood to our neighborhoods. In some cases, they're where our parents went to school and served as cheerleaders or members of student council. Above all, they're inspiring and they tell stories.
To quickly circle back to the Main Street analogy, when's the last time you heard someone say that about a new shopping center with state-of-the-art retail space and miles of parking?
As President Obama continues to host town halls (he hit Fort Meyers, Florida today) and highly-publicized White House cocktail parties as a means to indirectly push Congress along, I hope that he will remember the inspirational words he used to describe the importance of preservation and adaptive reuse not too long ago during his campaign and transition days.
What's old is old, yes, but it can all be new again - and "make America work" in the process - with the right leadership and a bold vision.
Learn more about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan and what it means for preservation on our evolving stimulus tracking and analysis page, as well as our ongoing work to protect neighborhood schools.
Jason Lloyd Clement is the director of community outreach at the National Trust, which is really just a fancy way of saying he’s a professional place lover. For him, any day that involves a bike, a camera, and a gritty historic neighborhood is basically the best day ever.