America likes charismatic optimists. Roosevelt, Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton. That was why I favored Obama over Hilary in ‘08. And why I thought he ultimately won. America was feeling down and needed someone to help change the mood, pull the country in a new direction, get us looking forward. Obama’s speech at the 2004 convention. Si se puede. Yes we can. All charismatic optimism.
What went wrong for Obama? Turns out he wasn’t just optimistic about the Republican response to him, he was naively and ineffectively so, compromising for compromise’ sake. He seemed driven by the grand notion that he could single-handedly change Washington. Too often he ended up asking for too little and conceding too much in his confrontations with Republicans.
In the stimulus bill negotiations early in his administration, Obama gave up $40 billion in aid to the states, and got not a single Republican House vote in return. That money would have been spent immediately. It would have kept services open and workers employed, with positive ripple effects in states like California whose debts ballooned after the crash. He still had a Congressional majority. He could have sent a bill down the next day, specifically for that $40 billion to the states, and, like the initial bill, it could have passed without a single GOP vote.
America also likes winners. And people who fight for their convictions. The Democrats and Obama have been caught between their espoused principles and their Wall Street funders. The Republicans have no such conflict. They want the same things as their funders. So they go for touchdowns. Too often the Democrats and Obama are willing to stop at the 20-yard line. Americans can tell the difference.
We all know it’s a lot more complicated than that. The fanning of fear has played a huge role, as has the flood of undisclosed campaign cash. But, allow me to fast forward to last night’s State of the Union.
Obama’s party took a terrible beating in the recent election, and he is speaking for the first time to a Congress in which the GOP holds majorities in both houses. Yet he looks relaxed and confident. One of the talking heads said after the speech that for the first time she got the feeling that Obama would like a third term. Maybe, but I also got the feeling for the first time that Obama could enjoy the freedom of being president for two more years – but only two more years.
As young as he is, for as long as he lives, he will never again have this much power. Sure, he faces enormous obstacles in the form of both the numbers and the approach of his Congressional opposition. Yet, perhaps their dominance gives him even greater freedom. Why not go for what you really want, see how far you can move public opinion, and how far public opinion can move what happens – now or in 2016.
He’s laid out a vision of where we need to go. Higher minimum wages, progressive taxation and other programs to restore the middle class, especially women and children. Foreign policy that is strategic rather than impulsive, especially in the use of the military. Accelerating our response to climate change. Rebuilding our infrastructure. Continuing down the path of immigration reform.
It’s an unusual position to be in, no doubt: Structurally limited by GOP dominance of Congress and the Supreme Court, but still the most powerful man in America. What if he chooses to take full advantage of all the assets of being president – above and beyond executive power? What if, unbound by campaign calculation, he chooses to use every tool at his disposal – the bully pulpit in particular – to achieve the maximum impact? And what if he also chooses to use that power to achieve the highest good?
A guy can dream.
[photo credit: http://all-goebook.rhcloud.com]
In CONNECTED, as her father battles brain cancer and she confronts a high-risk pregnancy, TIFFANY SHLAIN, co-founder of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences and a Fellow at the Aspen Institute, asks what it means to be connected in the 21st century.
The documentary film continues at three theaters in the Bay area, opens 09/30 at the Arclight Hollywood (Q&A w Shlain)and at the Angelika in New York 10/14 (Q&A w Shlain).
TIFFANY SHLAIN, honored by Newsweek as one of the “Women Shaping the 21st Century,” is a filmmaker, artist, founder of The Webby Awards, co-founder of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences and a Henry Crown Fellow of The Aspen Institute. Her films include Life, Liberty & The Pursuit of Happiness, about reproductive rights in America and The Tribe, an exploration of American Jewish identity through the history of the Barbie doll, Yelp: With Apologies to Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, about our addiction to technology and the importance of “unplugging”, and her newest Connected: A Declaration of Interdependence
I’ll share with you my views on a number of issues, large and small. I’ll deal with a lot of the questions I ask others about on a regular basis. What are our biggest challenges? Are there some critical issues that don’t get enough attention? Can I connect the dots among pieces of the puzzle of a world that just tight work? Can humanity turn things around? What gives me hope? I hope you find this hour provocative, stimulating, informative, challenging, and lively.
HAPPY. Are you happy? What makes you happy? Does money make you happy? Kids and family? Your work? Do you live in an environment that values and promotes happiness and well-being? Do you expect you’re going to get happier? How?
ROKO BELIC’S documentary HAPPY explores these sorts of questions. It weaves the latest scientific research from the field of “positive psychology” with stories from around the world of people whose lives illustrate what we’re learning.
The basic approach to the pursuit of happiness taken by many of us and by society in general isn’t delivering. We know more than we ever have about what science can tell us about happiness. And we have access to more diverse models and worldviews than ever before. This is a good time to ask some basic questions.
Q&A: RICHARD WILKINSON & KATE PICKETT, Authors – The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do BetterWritten on February 5th, 2010
RICHARD WILKINSON & KATE PICKETT authors of an important new book: The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better
In the UK, the Guardian says The Spirit Level "might be the most important book of the year, and The New Statesman named it one of the top ten books of the past decade.
Based on thirty years' research, The Spirit Level shows that unequal societies are bad for the well-off as well as the poor, when it comes to health and social problems, child well being, life expectancy, infant mortality, obesity, educational scores, drop out rates, illegal drug use, mental illness, homicide, incarceration, CO2 emissions, recycling, social mobility, innovation, and levels of trust.
The good news: If all these ills are related to one measure - income inequality, then, decreasing inequality should be the central goal of our politics because we can be confident that it works.
RICHARD WILKINSON has played a leading role in international research on inequality. He studied economic history at the London School of Economics before training in epidemiology, and is Professor Emeritus at the University of Nottingham Medical School and Honorary Professor at University College London.
KATE PICKETT is a senior lecturer at the University of York and a National Institute for Health Research Career Scientist. She studied physical anthropology at Cambridge, nutritional sciences at Cornell and epidemiology at Berkeley before spending four years as an Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago.