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Deborah Derrick Headshot

A Soapbox for Americans' Ideas on Day One

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Over the weekend, we again saw massive voter turnout in the primaries, which continues to break records. American democracy appears strong, but as Matt Yglesias points out there are "important things we haven't talked about," which includes, in my view, a solid agenda, built for day one of the next presidency, to change America's foreign policy trajectory.

"Day one" and "change" are clearly on the minds of the electorate, as is evidenced by their reflection in the messaging of the candidates. The prevalence of "change" has been widely reported and plastered on the placards of every major candidate. "Day one" has been as central to the discourse. Bold print on Senator McCain's campaign website reads, "Ready to lead On Day One." During the last CNN debate, Hillary Clinton reiterating her campaign mantra that her experience prepares her to "tackle all problems on day one." Senator Obama, conceding Clinton's experience, retorted that "it is important to be right on day one."

The candidates have picked up on a sentiment that is widespread through the electorate. They are tired of the current leadership (particularly with regard its foreign policy) and eager for a new, bold direction beginning on day one of the next presidency. Rightly so. The world is watching with bated breath not only to see who we will choose as our next president but how that president will choose to interact with the world starting on their first day in office. Regardless of who that person is and what they represent, they will need a slate of fresh ideas and a solid plan of action. Building a successful successor regime to Kyoto, ensuring the halt of the proliferation of nuclear weapons through rogue regimes, soothing war-torn regions, and bolstering the rule of law around the world -- just to name a few of the many challenges America faces abroad -- requires bold and innovative American leadership and political persuasion to build the necessary international consensus and momentum. The electorate, and the rest of the world, knows that we are not now headed in that direction.

The fact that there has been little discussion of the American foreign affairs agenda beyond our involvement in the war in Iraq is, in a way, a failing of the American democracy. The leaps in technology, communications, and political access that we've seen over the past decade should have produced American Democracy 2.0, a more perfect republic, better able to tap into the talents and good ideas of the American people. The marketplace of ideas has been democratized. Logging in now carries as much civic virtue as voting. Unfortunately, up to this point, though Americans have continued to speak with their money and their votes, they have not yet truly spoken with their ideas. Whether that is the fault of a government that keeps its citizens at arms' length, campaign playbooks that are scrubbed clean, or a citizenry that doesn't always raise its voice, it is a problem.

To elevate the discussion and innovative ideas already percolating in the electorate, the UN Foundation has produced an online forum (OnDayOne.org), where Americans can submit their ideas about the new course America will take. By doing so, we think that we can help the electorate shape the American foreign policy decisions made in the first days of the next presidency. If America is to succeed, the best ideas, not just those of the most powerful, need a soap box and a mega phone in the Oval Office.