Thursday, January 30, 2014

Time For a New Script

The president took his income inequality message on the road yesterday, visiting a Costco plant in Maryland that pays its workers a minimum of $11.50/hour. Then he was off to a steel plant in Pittsburg where he signed an executive order to create the “myRa” program, “making sure that after a lifetime of hard work you can retire with dignity.” Today he’ll visit Wisconsin and Nashville to double down on his SOTU message.

We’ve seen this movie before.

It is no secret that this president abhors the back room deal making that is the cornerstone of Washington politics; preferring instead to take his message directly to the people. His comfort zone lies behind a podium…making big speeches…inspiring the masses. His oratory is often followed by a road show full of pithy sound bites and photo-ops. His goal…to inspire the masses to do his bidding; to do that which he is reluctant to do himself…pressure congress to enact his agenda. He has been following this same strategy for the five years he has been in office. It’s not working.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

Our country is in a generational decline. Upward mobility is stagnant. If you are born into poverty in this country there is an 80% probability that you will remain in poverty for the rest of your life. For the first time in history our children will in all probability be worse off than we are. And yet here we are, and here is our president, nibbling around the edges of what is a massive deterioration in our society…a decline that won’t be fixed by raising the minimum wage or providing benefits for the long term unemployed. Yes, these are important issues that need to be resolved. But in terms of our country’s future they are but a pimple on an elephant’s ass. We have big problems and the president is playing small ball when he should be focusing on the big picture.

It’s not his fault.’

The president’s supporters will say it’s not his fault. They will point to his intransigent opponents who have made it their life’s mission to block his agenda.

It is not Obama’s fault. It’s not George Bush’s fault either. It is not the Democrats fault any more than it is the Republicans. It is a systemic decline in our society that has been ongoing for decades...crossing over party lines…presided over by Democrats and Republicans alike…fueled by a national sense of entitlement and governed by a political culture that puts personal interests and party ahead of country. No amount of partisan tinkering around the edges is going to stop the decline.

It may not be Obama’s fault…but it is his job to fix it.

President Obama has held the most powerful office in the world for five years. Like all his predecessors, to him goes the credit and the blame for that which happens on his watch. Like it or not, he owns this economy. Like it or not, he owns the continued deterioration of our society and the income disparity and stagnant mobility that goes along with it. It is not his fault…but it is his job to get it fixed.

How does he fix it?

If we are to reverse the downward spiral of the past decades we will have to undergo a dynamic shift in the way we do business. It will require a large investment in education and research and a complete restructuring of the manner in which we educate our children. It will require massive investments in our infrastructure. It will require an overhaul of the way we collect taxes and fund our government. And it will require a reform of our immigration laws so that we can attract and keep the world’s best and brightest. We’re not talking about nibbling around the edges of business as usual. We are talking about big changes and big ideas; none of which will be accomplished by executive orders and well written speeches. There are successful models out there. All we need do is embrace them.

So how is the president supposed to fix things when congress won’t work with him?

Nothing gets done until there is an agreement. And there can never be an agreement unless two sides are talking to each other…face to face…eye to eye. To get what you want you have to give something in return. The president cannot have a give and take with Speaker Boehner from a podium in Pittsburg.

If we were president we would get the best and brightest economists, scientists, educators, insurance experts, civil engineers, tax specialists and party leaders and lock them in a room until a long term deal is reached. Farfetched? Not really! It may take the remaining three years of Obama’s term to craft a plan, but so what. Could anything else be more important than the country’s long term future?

We don’t want to hear anymore speeches. We don’t want to see anymore finger pointing or listen to another lame version of the blame game. We would rather see Obama and Boehner locked in a room, smoking cigarettes until the walls turn yellow.

Lofty rhetoric isn’t working. Small ball isn’t either. The president needs to change his game plan. He needs to go bold. He needs to engage his opponents face to face and stop talking over them.

We are watching the same feature film over and over again. It doesn’t end well.

We need a new storyline.

The president has the power to produce and direct a new plot.

A struggling yet hopeful nation is watching.

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