Thursday, December 18, 2008

Where do you see yourself in two years?

update 4/29/09: Nudging towards Bethlehem

Barack Obama has a little to do list for the next two years (courtesy of Time):

When voters look at your Administration two years from now, in the off-year election, how will they know whether you're succeeding?

I think there are a couple of benchmarks we've set for ourselves during the course of this campaign. On [domestic] policy, have we helped this economy recover from what is the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression? Have we instituted financial regulations and rules of the road that assure this kind of crisis doesn't occur again? Have we created jobs that pay well and allow families to support themselves? Have we made significant progress on reducing the cost of health care and expanding coverage? Have we begun what will probably be a decade-long project to shift America to a new energy economy? Have we begun what may be an even longer project of revitalizing our public-school systems so we can compete in the 21st century? That's on the domestic front.

On foreign policy, have we closed down Guantánamo in a responsible way, put a clear end to torture and restored a balance between the demands of our security and our Constitution? Have we rebuilt alliances around the world effectively? Have I drawn down U.S. troops out of Iraq, and have we strengthened our approach in Afghanistan — not just militarily but also diplomatically and in terms of development? And have we been able to reinvigorate international institutions to deal with transnational threats, like climate change, that we can't solve on our own?

And outside of specific policy measures, two years from now, I want the American people to be able to say, "Government's not perfect; there are some things Obama does that get on my nerves. But you know what? I feel like the government's working for me. I feel like it's accountable. I feel like it's transparent. I feel that I am well informed about what government actions are being taken. I feel that this is a President and an Administration that admits when it makes mistakes and adapts itself to new information, that believes in making decisions based on facts and on science as opposed to what is politically expedient." Those are some of the intangibles that I hope people two years from now can claim.

I find this agenda both staggeringly ambitious and refreshingly modest. Modest, because many of the benchmarks bespeak new beginnings, tangible and positive changes of approach, rather than completely transformed institutions. "Have we made significant progress....Have we begun a decade-long project...have we begun an even longer project...have we strengthened our approach?" The broad goal, too, is in this vein: "I want the American people to be able to say...I feel like government's working for me." That's, again, both modest and transformative. It puts the country on the path to solve problems that (as Obama's been pointing out for two years) we've failed to deal with for decades -- healthcare, climate change, growing income inequality.It's a bid to roll back "government is not the solution, government is the problem," the battle-cry of The Great Risk Shift. The goals are huge, but the approach is incremental.
UPDATE, Feb. 16: Obama once again emphasizes making a beginning on a broad front of interlocking issues.

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