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The Vision Our Country Needs Now

November 27, 2012

When I was a young adult, people used to joke that if the political situation got any worse they would simply move to Australia. When I notified a few of my friends that I would be taking a trip to Canberra and then Sydney after the election, several people wrote me and asked: “Are you planning on coming back?”

Who can blame anyone for such wise cracks? Despite feeling relieved that the election is finally over and that the nation has spoken decisively, we are left with addressing now a series of divisive, dispiriting issues. This is not being helped by the fact that the conduct of the campaign was often brutal or unbecoming. In addition, too much money was spent and there was little debate about how to tackle the nation’s problems. The thrust of the election for both sides was all tactical, with the principle aim of proving the unsuitability of the other candidate. In the end, I believe the voters selected the right candidate. But ultimately, the vote was driven more by fear and contempt (for the other party) than an endorsement of a coherent national direction.

This offers both an opportunity and a danger for President Obama. If he doesn’t set an entirely new tone and give Republicans a way to “save face,” his second term could be imperiled – and this could have a lasting impact on his legacy. His alternative is to seize some obvious openings.

Here are several thoughts on what Obama should do:

1. Save political capital for when it really counts.

History has shown that second presidential terms can be perilous. That’s why Obama must be careful to pick the right fights. The “trial balloon” of Susan Rice for Secretary of State, for instance, should not be one of the places Obama spends his hard-earned political capital. He must preserve it for tackling one or possibly two big transformational challenges.

2. Bind the wounds.

The president needs to turn the atmosphere created by the negative presidential campaign into something positive: a national approach to our long-term challenges. Simply trying to empower the middle class is not an overarching strategy. With another war winding down, global economic shifts underway, and debt and recovery challenges in the U.S., the country needs the president to articulate a broad vision for the nation – not just a dissertation on tax policy or the government’s relationship with its citizens.

As soon as is feasible, the president would do well to travel to one or more of the Red States. Though Obama lost the Midwest and the South, he may have more in common with the residents of those rural areas than his handlers might think. Of strong Midwest stock himself, Obama has the opportunity to demonstrate some political bravery by wandering into seemingly hostile territory. He has been the epitome of a family man; this can help provide some useful touchstones. He can also make the case to those in conservative small-town America that, like their urban equivalents, he understands they suffer from limited opportunity and wants to do something about that.

Now is also the time to start talking with the business community. During the election, big-moneyed interests used the GOP’s social conservatives and working ranks to try and ratify arrangements that were primarily for their benefit. But Donald Trump and Jack Welch, for instance, are hardly icons of conservative lifestyles or values. Many of the unfounded conspiracy theories they advanced during the campaign were aimed at rallying those “impressionable others” into voting against their own economic interests. While this may be a sad and cynical turn in our electoral politics, they do not represent the views of all of America’s wealthy. More should be done to gather their ideas for moving forward. Raising taxes will never be enough. The future of everything, from economic prosperity to reducing income inequality, cannot be achieved without an economy that is growing. For this, it will require all hands on deck.

3. Give Americans a new way to think about the economy.

The president and the country will be helped considerably if the current fiscal crisis is put into context. It is more important than ever for us to understand the nature of our national strategic challenges and to see tax and revenue policy as only a means to an end. Finding the right balance of income and expenses is not just a way to avert a debt crisis; it is one of a number of measures that will assure our national strength and security. Under such a banner all Americans would be willing, as they have been in the past, to sacrifice something for our country’s national security.

On my recent visit to Australia I could easily see why people, in jest or otherwise, would hold out the island continent as an alternative to home. The country is beautiful and the Aussies are fun and unpretentious. These are tempting attributes for any modern society.

That’s why we cannot allow the United States to become a nation of “farnarklers,” a word they use Down Under for talkers who never get anything done. We, who live in the United States, need President Obama to lead and inspire us all – so we can ensure that America will remain the envy of the world.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. November 27, 2012 4:16 pm

    Nice piece. Thank you.

  2. PAUL J. HANSEN permalink
    November 27, 2012 4:47 pm

    SPOT ON AGAIN SUSAN!
    THE PRESIDENT APPEARS TO BE AMENABLE TO MEETING HIS OPPOSITION ON COMMON GROUND AND HOPEFULLY THIS WILL LEAD TO A SPIRIT OF CO-OPERATION THAT IS LONG MISSING ON THE POLITICAL LANDSCAPE. HOPEFULLY BOTH SIDES DISCERN THAT FAILURE TO COME TOGETHER MAY
    RESULT IN A DRAMATIC LOSS OF SEATS IN 2 YEARS.

    WITH THE EARLY GLIMMERINGS OF AN IMPROVING ECONOMY, THE WINDING DOWN
    OF WARS THAT HAVE COST US GRAVELY IN LOSS OF HEROIC LIVES AND TREASURE
    THE NEXT 4 YEARS COULD PROVE TO BE THE BEST SINCE 2000-IF THE PRESIDENT
    AND THE OPPOSITION LEADERS CAN DO THE PEOPLE’S WORK!!

    KEEP STIRRING THE POT ROUSING US TO SEE WHAT CAN BE!

    PAUL J. HANSEN
    PARK RIDGE,IL

  3. Robert Hanfling permalink
    November 27, 2012 6:28 pm

    Hi Susan, Well written, but doesn’t go far enough as to what he (absolutely, I believe) needs to change.

    1) COMMUNICATE facts and opinions to the public, and make sure they know the difference. He needs to use charts, graphs and figures to explain things. Even when he accomplished significant positive actions, such as saving Chrysler and G.M., at NO COST to the taxpayer, and created or maintained thousands of jobs he never got the results and message to the public. Words are enough (although watching – several times – Clinton’s speech at the convention would help).

    2) Get on the ‘bully-pulpit” as you suggest, and he has started to do this today. Without #1, giving people things they can remember and understand, the words will fade quickly.

    3) Get a good Cabinet, communicate with them and use them as part of his communication efforts. Where were the Secretaries of Labor and Commerce (and others) during the first term? Unseen and unused (except after the car accident).

    4) I have already heard from some smart, meaningful Washington “insiders”, that (some whom you know) that the W.H. is already NOT listening to anyone outside. The transition “team” either hasn’t been defined, or they are keeping things very close and totally inside – NOT a good sign.

    5) I absolutely agreed with you, on him picking his issues and letting the R’s “win” some things. He should go back to the Simpson-Bowles outline and come up with his own plan. he is being correctly criticized for not having a plan. I also agree, that right or wrong, don’t go with Susan Rice (but I shutter at some of the other names being put forth).

    6) I won’t get into the area of DOE/NNSA energy policy, national security etc., because I am too emotionally stressed about them. He appears to once again put DOE at the bottom three : DOE, DOL, and DOT. When will ANY administration recognize what DOE does and the national security aspects?

    Oh, people wanting to leave the country may not have to travel to Australia – the independent state of Texas may be closer. (what a waste of time and how foolish can you get. Maybe Norquist can move there and eliminate Texas taxes all together.)

  4. pancheetah permalink
    November 27, 2012 10:36 pm

    As usual, you’re comments are thought provoking and productive. As someone who turned off her TV last April and have yet to turn it back on, I probably missed a good deal of the negative campaigning.  From my reading and consideration of candidates’ past records i concluded President Obama’s vision of the future was positive, motivating and appealed to the best in human nature, e.g hard work, the high road, willingness to contribute to the common good and generosity of spirit.  And that’s why I voted for him and that is what many of my friends said also.  Lest one think that I was just moved by rhetoric, let me quickly add that I was particularly influenced by what the candidates had done to live up to their words – giving greater weight to their deeds than their words.

    I differ from your advice because I believe that for now it would be sheer folly as well as irresponsible to campaign without tactics or ‘ground game.’ Without the last four years of reaching out and engaging me and my neighbors the outcome most likely IMO would have been different. Perhaps I misinterpret what you’ve said, but I think the kind of ubiquitous national purpose envisioned would be more likely after a new generation which embodies respect, honor, hard work, equality and sense of the common good. perhaps then we’ll have a chance to see the kind of political discourse you envision.

  5. Tony DuPuis permalink
    November 27, 2012 10:45 pm

    As always, well spoken and oh so true Susan on all points…This was the most “uncommon” election in our history…Never have I ever seen such rhetoric, deception, and instilled hate occur in the subdividing of our nation…now, it’s time time for that new American vision…
    Thanks Susan :-)

  6. November 28, 2012 9:42 am

    Immigration is one issue where it should be possible to put forward a bipartisan approach and get the job done, without a great deal of rancor between Democrats and Republicans. The proposals of two retiring Republican members of Congress with the Achieve Act suggest the possibilities here. Working on an issue like this where common ground can be found should open the doors to progress on other issues too down the line.

  7. Rick Jones permalink
    December 4, 2012 10:55 pm

    Susan, as always, post LARGER than ideology! After the”W” re-election(2004), I was on my way to Hobart, Tasmania, but @ patriot I stayed USA. After recently viewing “Lincoln” movie(w/House of Representatives contretemps), listening to /Steven Spielberg & Dorris Kerns Goodwin@Dedication Day Lincoln remembrance G-burg National Cemetery(19Nov2012), I have accepted an absolute indelible faith the US Congress will do all the RIGHT THINGS for “US” at this moment in history, in spite of itself!!! It is such an honour to “blog” w/you, & all the intellectual ” firepower” that contributes regularly. Rick Jones(Gettysburg)

  8. December 7, 2012 11:44 pm

    Voters made the right decision in re-electing Barack Obama as President. Now he must decide whether he wants history to say he was the first black president or he was also one of our greatest Presidents. He has the opportunity to be the later if he takes the appropriate action outlined below.

    1. Get out of Afghanistan and adjust the defense budget to fit reality. Reality is education is at least as critical to our future as defense and therefore transfer a portion of the defense budget to education.
    2. Address Iran’s quest for a nuclear weapon including attacking them if necessary.
    3. Focus foreign affairs efforts on the western hemisphere including helping Haiti. It we don’t China will. Also improve relations with the new democratic nations in the middle east.
    4. Implement health care reform while acknowledging adjustments need to be made including enforcing anti-trust laws to make the industry more competitive.
    5. Repeal the Supreme Courts decision on Citizens United concerning campaign contributions.
    6. Invoke the Volcker Rule and break-up banks that are too big to fail.
    http://www.freeourfreemarkets.org/2012/11/will-obama-be-great-president.html#more

  9. Ernest Kolowrat permalink
    December 19, 2012 3:41 pm

    Well said, Susan — let’s hope those in position to act on your suggestions are listening.
    May I take advantage of your blog to raise a moral and fiscal issue that goes to the heart of who we are as a nation: when are we going to make it a priority to start reducing markedly our disproportionately bloated prison population? Are we shutting our eye to the fact that a very substantial proportion of those behind bars, especially those incarcerated for drug offenses, are in effect political prisoners?

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