Critics fault Barack Obama for not offering specifics on the issues, of not spelling out precisely how he's going to achieve that promised "change," and indeed many people would like to hear the details from him. Not gonna happen. In fact, it would be a mistake for him to do so.
Here's why. Given our current state of corporatized media, NO WAY can a candidate come right out with anything suggesting substantive progressive change. He or she would be immediately demonized as a "liberal," a "socialist," a "communist," accused of waging "class war," of being "soft on defense," of being "naive," of lacking "experience," yada-yada-yada.
Obama is intelligent, and he's canny. He's comfortable in his own skin. He projects self-confidence, authenticity, honesty, good will. Given the dismal state of our union, I'm not at all sure what one person can do, but I think Obama is on the right track in energizing and activating the populace, of talking about values, about hope. YES WE CAN, he says, and that's not just "sizzle," not just a dream. It's a vision, and if we agree with that vision, We the People can become engaged with it. Not only can we elect Obama in November, we can elect those Democrats who will back him up after he takes office as President. And YES WE CAN, and must, avoid our usual mistake of going back to our own narrow lives as if one man will solve all of our and the nation's problems. Our work as citizens will have only just begun.
We and our nation face many critical issues. Our task as citizens will be to educate ourselves, listen with an open mind, and actively support a reasonable agenda. Let's also keep in mind that everything is connected to everything else, and that problems are best solved by avoiding them in the first place.
YES WE CAN devise a better "health care" system. I'm not the first to point out that the medical-insurance industry rakes in billions in annual profits and consequently will not be legislated out of existence any time soon. We know that any suggestion of a single-payer, government-run health plan will be screamingly termed "socialized medicine," and possibly the best we can hope for in the short term will be constraints on the most egregious of insurance company policies. That said, YES WE CAN begin an end run around the medical-industrial complex by focusing on ways to improve our general health and thereby lower the overall costs of medical care. It makes no sense to permit unlimited promotion of junk food and a sedentary lifestyle while at the same time expending more and more of our health care dollars on treating obesity and its attendant medical problems. Those dollars would be better used to install drinking fountains in schools; reinstate recess periods; require physical-education classes; deconsolidate schools into smaller units closer to students' homes; conform infrastructure to encourage walking and bicycling; establish small local clinics for minor illnesses and injuries; engage in proactive health-care education; facilitate and support neighborhood gardens and farmers' markets; place limits on the advertising of drugs or, at the very least, require broadcasters to provide equal time on OUR air waves for public-interest health-care messages.
Another critical issue is global climate change. Action on this problem is not economically infeasible. Actually, the U.S. would reap huge economic benefits in alternative energy research, development, and manufacturing that would create lots of well-paying, satisfying jobs across the country. YES WE CAN require more in the way of government investment in this area.
Our nation's infrastructure has been ignored for far too long. Not only in Louisiana have levees collapsed. Bridges are falling down, roads are riddled with potholes, sewage from inadequately maintained treatment plants spills into our streams, schools, hospitals, public buildings, parks and playgrounds lack proper repair and maintenance. YES WE CAN invest in our infrastructure. We'll save money in the long run and also create jobs.
YES WE CAN adopt trade policies that are fair to our trading partners and to our own workers. We can rebuild our industrial base so that it's not primarily motor vehicles, planes, and armaments, so that people have well-paying, meaningful jobs, so that we regain our industrial independence and end trade deficits that have been running over $60 billion – per month!
Taxes are essential to any civilized society, and YES WE CAN institute more enlightened tax policies. The City of Vallejo, California, has announced that it's on the brink of bankruptcy because the mortgage meltdown has drastically cut property tax revenue. If you lived there, what would you suggest be cut? Police protection? The fire department? Public schools? Paramedics? The water department? Sanitary district? Street and sidewalk maintenance? Parks and playgrounds? If we were starting from scratch to form a community, we'd immediately realize that there are some services that we individual citizens can't realistically provide for ourselves, that the municipality itself must provide, and that all of us, residents and businesses, will have to chip in to pay for them.
YES WE CAN work toward genuine "national security." Whether in a community of families or in a community of nations, arming ourselves to the teeth does not buy "security." Our best protection is not guns under our pillows; it's having good neighbors who know and trust us and who will drop everything and come running if they hear us scream. Internationally, our best "defense" lies in honest efforts to cultivate good "neighbors" all over the world. We don't have to like every one of our neighbors, or to agree with their thinking or approve their lifestyle, but we do need to talk to them about our mutual concerns and to refrain from telling them what they should and shouldn't do or be or wear, or what god they should worship. Also remember: no part of life is totally "secure."
Both national and domestic security will require moving toward a more equitable distribution of wealth. YES WE CAN legislate an adequate minimum wage tied to the cost of living, restore the estate tax, clamp down on off-shoring of corporate profits, tax dividends, raise the amount of income subject to Social Security, end corporate subsidies. It's a disgrace that here in the wealthiest nation in the world we have people living under bridges! Where is our humanity, when corporate CEOs take home hundreds of times what they pay their lowliest employees, where a stock goes UP when workers are laid off?
YES WE CAN have an administration that strongly supports public education and will thoroughly revise the highly flawed and ineffective "No Child Left Behind" act. For those people who hold up charter schools as better because they offer more innovation, I have a question: If that's true, why not permit innovation in our public schools? Why do we hold them all to the same boring format and curriculum, lacking both excitement and satisfaction? Why are we turning out graduates with the very same skill sets and body of knowledge? Given that NCLB requires each student's head to be stuffed with the very same set of factoids, where will we get our musicians, artists, philosophers, historians, scientists? Where in fact will we get teachers willing to spend their lives following a script with no opportunity for genuine teaching?
YES WE CAN reform the prison-industrial complex, that odious cabal of (mostly) state governments, police, courts, and prison-guard unions designed to incarcerate as many people as possible for as long as possible, large numbers of them for the dubious "crime" of the wrong choice of drugs. This system deprives judges of their ability to judge, deprives children of their parents, deprives society of potential workers. Rather than lessening crime, it acts as a breeding ground for criminals. The money would be far better spent on better schools, preschools, playgrounds, after-school programs, art and music, subsidized higher education, the establishment of more technical and vocational schools, and of course more and better jobs.
No item on this lengthy list can be capsulated in a sound bite, and in-depth discussion of any of them at this point would be likely to ring alarm bells in the offices of the corporate-prison-industrial-military complex. That said, I'd like to believe that there are corporate executives who are just as dismayed as I at the on-going chaos in Iraq, the disintegration of our nation, the dismal state of our infrastructure, at the fear-mongering that has turned us into scaredy-cats, at the violence that has become endemic to our inner cities and erupts all too frequently on our highways, on college campuses and in shopping malls. I'd like to believe that there are wealthy shareholders who'd also like to see change, even to embrace the idea that maybe, just maybe, enough IS enough. And together, all of us, YES WE CAN build a better, brighter, more secure future.