I'm not a New York Jets fan but I was hit between the ears by a metaphorical truth during their football game yesterday. As the Jets' entered the third quarter trailing the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-3, I was thinking about the president's upcoming State of the Union speech. I heard an announcer put the Jets predicament into a perspective that is remarkably similar to the one Obama faces on Tuesday night. To wit: "You need to pick up the pace and score three touchdowns."
Admittedly, three touchdowns for the Jets would have only resulted in a tie game. Yet, given the midterm "shellacking" back in November, a tie game on the political playing field now could result in another Obama victory in 2012. After all, the president is rising in the polls, and, while those polls mean next to nothing until next year and really not much of anything until after Labor Day in 2012, it's still a good sign.
Our president handled the Tucson tragedy well, and if he has proven himself a better orator than progressive statesman, there is still audacious hope in my heart for a real leader to emerge from those impressive speeches. I am still awaiting, as I think we all are, a leader who boldly alters the political game and significantly improves the future of our country. He has less than two years to begin to accomplish that, by which I mean to do something other than move the ball between the forty yard lines in order to insure his reelection in Bill Clinton-like centrist fashion. So the question becomes: what should our president do?
First, he must--and I do mean "must"--address the war machine whose high octane burn of budgetary air is suffocating everything else. This machine is responsible for the $190 million-plus we spend each and every day pursing unobtainable political objectives in Afghanistan and Iraq, Pakistan and Yemen.
Mr. President: real game-changing leadership sometimes requires doing what is obvious. Washington crossed the Delaware River. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. FDR created a federal jobs program.
In your case, what is obvious to everyone at home and abroad is our country's need to end an unpopular and unwinnable war. What we want you to announce on Tuesday is that you have already signed the order to withdraw all troops from those regions immediately . That's the first touchdown. That's the big inspiration we need to really change the game.
The second touchdown can be scored when you announce what you will then do with all those savings. Here's my advice. First, create a federal jobs program to rebuild the crumbling infrastructure and provide incentives to private entrepreneurs to hire, educate, and train a whole new generation of truly knowledgeable, globally-aware, and tech savvy workers. From you recent trip to Asia, you know firsthand that is what the competition is doing and that we are already behind.
Second, bailout America's education system. Don't just talk about it, do it! For a faction of the cost of war you could save every teacher's job in America as well as give them a meaningful standard of living commensurate with their educational attainments and professional accomplishments that would be capable of attracting the best and brightest to this important and vastly overburdened profession. You could do that and still significantly reduce class sizes, improve accountability, and fund a college or a community college education for every high school graduate. With the savings from not fighting wars, you can do all of those things for teachers and students and also fund the repairs and improvements to schools and colleges that have been delayed or postponed because of cutbacks in funding from states.
As our president, you can and should promote the idea of learning, and of becoming well-educated person, as the core of a new citizenship based on what we can do for ourselves and for our country. You are, in fact, the perfect poster child for this campaign: a bright man well recognized and rewarded for what you know and are able to communicate about what you know. Let's give everyone in America a chance at that same skill set.
Third, let's use whatever is left--which is annually a staggering sum of Benjamins--to do what our founders said government should do: promote the public good. Use some of it, of course, to pay down the deficit. But let's do more than that. Let's broaden the scope of what we usually mean by "the public good."
Let's commit ourselves to the goal of never again seeing a hurricane take out a major American city, such as New Orleans, or stunt its recovery due to a lack of federal support. Let us never again see the loss and ruin of a major American city, such as Detroit, because of the loss of a major industry. And let us never see people leave small towns or rural communities because of a lack of opportunity or a future.
Mr. President, the future, our collective New American Dream, is not about "being left behind" but "getting ahead."
Those are two touchdowns and maybe a safety. The third touchdown, the winning score, has to be made on the global playing field. Out there, it is a battle of narratives. Out there, it is all about who we are, what we stand for, and what story we carry about ourselves and our ambitions in the world beyond our shores.
In that battle of narratives, America must shift our focus from being the largest arms dealer on the planet to being the largest purveyor of peace and prosperity. When natural disaster strikes, or disease, or famine, let America step in and help the needy recover but nothing more. Nothing more. Let our military stand always ready for self-defense and to protect our own national security, but not for invasion and occupation.
What makes our narrative great is the appeal of our best ideas. And our best ideas--democracy, freedom, economic development, social justice, public education, and self-determination--are available to anyone via the Internet. It is through free trade, education, social media, and the experience of personal travel that our best ideas spread and take root among those who find in them hope for a better life and a better world.
We don't need to support corrupt regimes or political puppets to make our best ideas appealing. What we must do instead is to offer the world the fruits of those ideas: opportunity and innovation, literacy, a better quality of life, and support for human rights.