This latest installment of the REAL 100 Days project was difficult for us to write, given the partisan gridlock that yielded the Democrat-backed stimulus package recently passed by the legislature. Ultimately, the political climate reinforced the reasons we decided to collaborate for this column during Obama's first 100 days in office. With each passing day, the path before us is littered with partisan garbage -- and our goal becomes clearer on the horizon line. Meanwhile many journalists, pundits, bloggers and Joe the Plumber have declared the honeymoon is over and are settling in with their popcorn to watch a year of sparring commence. This kind of political laziness is not exactly a surprise. However, it still is not appropriate behavior since we all agree: America is in crisis.
We propose the stimulus debate, or lack thereof, proved beyond a doubt that forward-thinking individuals must join the netroots-driven political realignment happening across America to have meaningful impact. We must challenge each other to frame different approaches to our common future outside of MSM coverage and the petty politics-as-usual sentiments of our quick-to-give-up peers.
Obviously, there are micro-level facts that cannot be ignored: Republicans did not vote for the stimulus despite reasonable efforts by the president to include them in the process. Democrats did not prioritize addressing Republican objections to "pork" in the bill, which arguably included legislation that is worth debating and implementing but was perhaps inappropriate in the urgent context of the economic crisis. The ineffectual negotiation skills of the dynamic duo of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid undercut Obama's hard-earned credibility with moderates who supported his candidacy and alienated Republicans willing to cooperate. GOPers looking to establish solidarity within their disheveled party chose unanimously to protest, which time will prove to be either an act of courageous dissent or spineless plausible deniability. Perhaps, it was a cynical -- but canny -- move that will illustrate Obama as a savvy campaign oriented politician, who allows Speaker Pelosi to take the heat whilst he governs from the center. Reasonable citizens on any side of the ideological spectrum are right to raise red flags amid these circumstances and proceed with caution.
Don't miss the bigger picture. The Obama phenomenon, as Mark Penn will tell you, was not about microtrends or even microtargeting, which his campaign perfected on web 2.0, netroots and traditional platforms. His campaign conveyed a new idea for American politics, voters were intrigued, then hooked. The vague war cries of "hope" and "change" may have oversimplified the underlying message and warranted appropriate skepticism, but it tapped into a cultural shift at the grassroots level -- and will continue to happen whether our society's mainstream reporters, professors in Ivory towers, congressmen up for reelection, or basement-dwelling pajama-clad bloggers choose to acknowledge it.
It's simple really: People have power. Internet access and mobile technology forced leaders who have operated in relative autonomy by manipulation to suddenly become accountable to their constituents and customers. This simple truth also explains the demise of the traditional MSM industry. And why small donors carried an unlikely presidential candidate to victory, why CEOs and Senators are starting Twitter accounts and making Facebook profiles to connect directly with consumers in the collective conversation social media provides. Politics as usual may not surprisingly have triumphed in the first month of a newbie administration as old faithfuls clung to the establishment, but just like vinyl records and newspapers, it will not survive if the status quo is constantly embraced over 21st century reality.
Now that the flow of information in this country is taking a more egalitarian shape, it's become clear the pie-in-the-sky kumbaya politics Obama was accused of lipservicing in the campaign is really not a far-fetched idea. However complicated it may be, there is an undercurrent being ignored by some in the establishment, and by hangers on to Rush Limbaugh. Even Time magazine deemed DailyKos as overrated.
Still, with impending demographic shifts in the country's population, the utility and messaging of contemporary political parties is about to undergo an extreme makeover. Americans still won't agree on abortion and gay rights or teaching creationism in elementary school classrooms, but they are not interested in being trapped in the dichotomy of right-left politics on many issues that transcend socio-economic status, religious affiliation and identity politics. People want to see jobs created, they want to see increased spending to resuscitate the economy, preferably targeted, temporary and timely as the President originally suggested. They want our troops adequately provided for with reasonable deployment schedules. They want a transparent government, and they want their tax dollars spent effectively. Approaches to problem-solving in these areas differ, but good ideas can come from anybody, so long as authorship is less important than good governance.
Empowered voters with little knowledge or regard for the standard practices of Washington politics want their expectations met. This is the clear message they sent our country's leaders on Nov. 4, and it is the responsibility of those in positions of influence to rise to the occasion.
The REAL lessons of stimulus, we submit, are:
- Concerned citizens cannot kowtow to the framework under which the MSM presents information in this society. Obviously individual actors are credible and compelling like Chris Cillizza at WaPost's The Fix, the New York Times' Caucus blog, Lynn Sweet at the Chicago Sun Times, Ed Henry of CNN, Jake Tapper who writes Political Punch for ABC News, Ben Smith, Mike Allen and Jonathan Martin at The Politico, and Matt Cooper who is writing for Men's Health, Portfolio and TPM - hello Mr. Multi-Tasker. In general the big, slow juggernauts we've been forced to rely on for soundbite-driven news aren't the only ones with access and resources anymore. If the institutions can't monetize their business models, it's because their products are less relevant. Blow up your television and stop bitching to your self-reinforcing political pals. You can choose to frame your own narratives with an optimistic, critical eye while mobilizing in your personal sphere, particularly on a local level.
- There is an absence of visionary leadership in Congress. Last year's electoral excitement notwithstanding, the stimulus served as an important reminder that our president does not have absolute power to influence legislation. We witnessed an unfortunate display of the herd mentality orchestrated by leaders grasping for relevance. Shift your focus to more dynamic leaders, like Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA). We can't say we both always endorse their actions, but we're glad to see them at the microphone bringing fresh approaches to the process.
- Call us existential, but we also just got schooled in the importance of having the right priorities. Sure, Lizzy referred to it as "porkulus" and Maegan supported most of the measures the Democrats wanted in the bill, but we concur that the process of tacking tertiary or tangential legislation onto a matter of massive importance like, uh, SAVING THE ECONOMY is a ridiculously inappropriate abuse of power that will not yield lasting results. Especially when much of the spending could have gone in regular appropriations bills later this year, which would have substantially decreased the size of the bill, made it an actual stimulus bill that achieved the president's - and Republicans - goals for targeted, timely and temporary relief for average Americans.
Ultimately, we can cling to our comfort zones and bicker incessantly. Or we can choose to be an innovative part of something unprecedented in America. Of course, establishment Democrats will run ads praising Obama, Pelosi and Reid for fast-tracking the Stimulus. And Republicans will pray for more ads from outside groups, like the American Issues Project to develop a cogent response to Democrats while Michael Steele attempts to reconstruct the GOP. While we may curl up on the couch at night to vent with Olbermann and Glenn Beck, respectively, we believe strongly that our generation must overcome our collective instant message mindset to develop the intestinal fortitude and patience it will require to cultivate a more compelling, participatory government.
President Obama has made no secret of his admiration for the Father of the Republican Party, and so with President Lincoln's Gettysburg Address in mind we challenge you to remember we are, at the end of the day, all Americans -- who want what is best for this nation. Lincoln said, "...that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."