I have had the privilege of watching this historic presidential election through the eyes and prism of my three young sons. What started out as an occasional question about whether "Arack Obama" (as my five year old son calls him) has, over the past year, blossomed into a nightly series of questions from my kids as to how Obama was doing in the race. While I fielded questions from them as mundane as "What is the economy?" to "Do you like John McCain?" they never asked a question about Obama's race, or Hillary Clinton's or Sarah Palin's gender. And that is what is so important and momentous about yesterday's election. For when the next generation comes of age, they do not have to wonder "what if", they will just say "when".
They do not know any different from an African-American winning the election or a woman being on the ticket. They do not know how religious barriers were brought down by JFK's election in 1960 or Joe Lieberman's nomination in 2000, or Geraldine Ferraro's and Sarah Palin's nominations. The way they see the world is fundamentally different than our generation who saw only white males running for the highest office in the land. And that is why the stakes are so high now that Obama has won the presidency.
He has the expectations and the pride of millions around the world waiting to see him in action. By running on a mantle of "change", there is enormous pressure on him to show that he can deliver change from the old Washington ways of the past. Some critics claim that his election was just a rejection of the failed Bush policies, but I see a complete affirmation in a modern liberalist movement -- one in which government can and should make people's lives better.
But change can be a dangerous aphrodisiac. It is easy to be tempted by the landslide mandate Obama received (as the first Democrat since Carter to receive a popular majority and by the clear "coattails" effect he had in down ballot races.) That is why we must hope that in delivering this change, he will be mindful to not veer too far to the left and risk repeating mistakes that Bill Clinton did in 1992 that cost Democrats the House and Senate in the 1994 Republican rout. Certain legislative priorities if done right out of the gate could cause a Republican backlash that might gain traction in the 2010 Congressional elections, and could jeopardize this once in a lifetime opportunity. For example, Obama will face enormous pressure to immediately proceed with the union "card check" legislation which does away with secret ballots for unions and allows unions to organize with a majority vote, or the "fairness doctrine" legislation through which conservative talk show radio would be required to provide a fair and balanced counterpart. We cannot allow Republicans to use these items as so-called "liberal" targets in the next election cycle.
The best strategy to counteract this is to concentrate first on items that have widespread bipartisan support. These include an economic stimulus package that involves large scale public works and infrastructure projects which will create jobs and a new energy independence policy. By building that consensus between liberal Democrats, pragmatists, the more conservative Blue Dog Democrats and moderate Republicans on these key issues, Obama can build a strong coalition for change. Once that track record has been established, he can then tackle the thornier questions of universal health care and how to help the 47 million individuals who have no coverage. The time will come for additional priorities once a clear centrist coalition has been formed. Without that bedrock of support and a track record of reaching across the aisle, one of the greatest opportunities in history to create a modern "New Deal" to help Americans across the country will be lost. And I don't know how I could ever explain that to my sons.
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