Have you noticed the large inverse correlation between the number of pundits and politicians now saying that President Obama should focus on jobs, and the small number of ideas being put forth to actually create them? One reason we hear so few specific big ideas about creating jobs is that to do so on the scale necessary to impact 9.1% unemployment would require an enormously ambitious and probably expensive agenda. Of the many negative consequences of the debt ceiling debacle, perhaps the greatest of all has been the national accommodation and acclimation to thinking small.
But that's where presidential leadership is supposed to come in. Presidents are elected and paid to think bigger than the rest of us -- to not be constrained by petty political considerations -- even given the reality of the political environment in which they operate. From Lincoln to FDR, from Nixon to Reagan, we've seen presidents take risks when the stakes were high. President Obama needs to do more than call for a renewed focus on job creation as he did in his weekend radio address. He needs to put forth ideas on the scale that the problem exists, to show what our nation needs to do, not just center the debate around what some believe we can afford to do.
In reducing the federal budget we have also reduced the national imagination. The political failure we are witnessing today is not just a failure of fiscal discipline or of political civility, or even of long-range thinking. It is a failure of imagination. As I learned in writing The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men, that is what most failures are really all about.
Of course presidents don't have a monopoly on big ideas. Other policymakers, academics and advocates have a responsibility to step up as well. Enough cowering under the covers as unfavorable political winds blow. Let's debate what we'd like to do, and then we can talk about whether it is worth the price. Our politicians might be surprised to learn just how much most Americans, who are more used to sacrifice than the elites, are willing to do to get this country working again.
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