Dear President Obama,
Tonight in your State of the Union speech, I hope you challenge every American citizen. We need you to return to the frank talk that characterized your campaign. You impressed us with your honest assessment of the real issues we face and your willingness to make decisions that change the status quo.
Every day you are asked to do things for different groups of Americans and I suspect your compassion pushes you to accommodate as many of these requests as possible. This is why you are so passionate about health care and jobs. I believe it is why we had the stimulus bill, the women's wage parity law and why you are focusing on American's families.
But rather than working so hard to give, perhaps you can use your Presidential leadership to ask.
President Kennedy challenged Americans to "ask what you can do for your country." One of your top staff, Larry Summers, recently lamented that almost never has anyone come to his government office and asked what they could do for their country - rather they all ask for things for special treatment and favors from their government.
How can Americans not give when asked? We as Americans are united by our desire for a better, stronger nation. We share a love of country. We want a better future for our children and grandchildren. Our young soldiers are risking life and limb in Iraq and Afghanistan. So what is it that you could ask us to do that would be more difficult?
If you believe we need to cut down on foreign oil, then ask us. You don't have to complain about our addiction to oil, but rather challenge us to cut down on our use of oil. Set goals. Make carpooling patriotic. Offer recognition to areas that cut oil used the most. Encourage people to move near their employers. Challenge all of us for good ideas. And consider asking for support for step raises in the excise tax on oil.
If you want us to cut health care costs then urge every American to take responsibility for their health and treatment. Challenge them to lose weight and eat healthy and exercise. Ask them to state in writing their specific desires for end of life treatment. Simply knowing desires would save the family's guilty default treatment of keeping their loved one alive at any cost. Solicit expense-saving ideas and treatments from American doctors. Ask Americans to think twice before suing doctors and ask juries to reflect that not every outcome in risky medicine can be positive.
You are our national leader and leadership is about more than new laws and mandates and asking for support on votes.
If you believe in jobs and innovation as a decisive strategy for America then ask what it takes to create new jobs. Challenge employers to hire new workers and reassure them that they won't be hit with new taxes, mandates, or restrictions on trade. If you want millions of new businesses to sprout, then encourage them and ask for help in their funding.
If you are concerned about the deficit (and I know you are) then a modest freeze in spending is not enough. We need to make tough choices and you can ask for help. Ask how we can afford two wars - plus a war on drugs - plus Social Security, Medicare, agricultural subsidies, and thousands of government programs, each of which has a constituency. Tell Americans the truth about the likely bankruptcies of states and localities and the facts on the costly fixed pensions for government employees. As students are furloughed from schools, as states cut back services, Washington will be asked to spend more and Americans must know we have tough choices ahead.
You can get the help of the American people. The Detroit School Board head challenged parents and businesses, and in response, thousands have volunteered in Detroit schools. We cannot afford the government services we are getting, and we need to cut back - and you know that. The sooner you ask us to adjust and cut back our requests and expectation from government, the quicker we will.
Americans are not dumb, but we have been delusional. We have thought we could have it all - all the government service, all the new rules and mandates on business, all the lawsuits and an expectation that government will step in to support failed business models. But we know the party is ending. This is when great leadership is needed.
Anyone can lead in good times. It is tough times that challenge. Americans will stand up as long as they feel the sacrifice is shared and the result is worthy.
We need your leadership. We need you to ask. You have the bully pulpit. We are hungry for leadership.
Gary Shapiro is the president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, which represents more than 2,000 U.S. technology companies.