From Politics to Governance It was a "change" election all right, but will it actually change Washington and America?
November 2008 wasn't so much a culmination as it was the beginning of a new chapter in our national story. For America is as much a notion as a nation, the notion being that a government "of, by and for the people" (still the best definition of democracy) is a continuously self-correcting mechanism where the pursuit of progress is our secular religion. "America," wrote Walt Whitman, "is always becoming."
But that idealized process presumes a continuing conversation between leaders and citizens so that government reflects popular opinion and therefore produces good results. This is the opposite of President George W. Bush's almost authoritarian assertion after his reelection that the country had had its "accountability moment" and, as the "decider," he'd lead where he chose. November 5, then, shouldn't end, but rather ignite, a public conversation about what's next. As politics now elides into policies, the story of 2009 is only starting to be written.
Hence Change for America.
The Center for American Progress Action Fund and the New Democracy Project began working on this non-partisan volume in mid-2007 based on the belief that the "charisma of ideas" could help whoever was elected the 44th president. Presidential candidates rationally concentrate far more on money, media and primaries than on how to actually run the government post- election. That's why we thought that the winner would benefit from the best thinking of 67 progressive scholars, authors, advocates, and officials pooling their collective years of experience and thinking into one volume of solutions. Change for America consequently contains both detailed agency-by-agency proposals as well as thematic overview essays about how to best renew and reform the next America.
The model was President John F. Kennedy who said he "threw his hat over the wall of space" when he predicted in 1962 that America would land a man on the moon by decade's end. So let's imagine America in 2016: how do we want our government and country to look then, by the end of the 44th president's possible two terms in office? Unless the new administration has a clear destination, it will never get there.
This book offers several hundred ways both to fix our broken government and to provide benchmarks against which the new administration can be measured. It focuses far more on prescription than description, on ideas for the future rather than the failures of the past. Change, however, is hard. Machiavelli rightly noted that "there is nothing more difficult and dangerous, or more doubtful of success, than an attempt to introduce a new order of things in any state. For the innovator has for enemies all those who derived advantages from the old order of things whilst those who expect to be benefited by the new in situations will be lukewarm defenders." Indeed, the American democratic system--with its bicameral legislature, Senate filibuster rules, and executive veto--bends more toward stasis than reform. Still, dramatic change can occasionally happen all at once--as it did in 1933 and 1965--when public pressure forces tectonic plates to shift and when there's presidential leadership to direct the released energy.
Teddy Roosevelt, for example, realized that only government could protect the environment and police big corporations--and he acted on that realization. Of course, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected to respond boldly to the Great Depression. Harry Truman understood that Europe's recovery after World War II would enhance America's recovery--hence the Marshall Plan. Monumental civil rights laws emerged from the combination of Kennedy's assassination and Lyndon Johnson's legislative acumen.
The editors and authors of Change for America believe that 2009 will involve not only a transition between presidencies but potentially also between eras. Based on two significant books from this past year--Rick Perlstein's Nixonland and Sean Wilentz's Era of Reagan--that both analyze the two leading conservative presidents of the late 20th century, it is safe to conclude that 1968 was the start of a 40-year conservative reign, interrupted by the anomaly of Watergate and Bill Clinton's unusual talents. Clinton, though, understood well the era he governed in, once confiding to an aide that he was "a progressive president in a conservative era."
Barack Obama, on the other hand, now has the historic opportunity to be a progressive president in a progressive era and therefore take America to a different place, where elected leaders focus on issues beyond only taxes and terrorism.
Preconditions for a New Era
The late Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., articulated the theory that, in a two-party country, there are political cycles of 30 years or so that swing like a pendulum from right to left and back. While he did not think there was such a thing as historical inevitability, it is true that, looking back, there has been something of a pendulum effect from McKinley/TR to FDR/Truman/JFK to the Reagan/ Bushes.
The assumption that we may soon see a progressive president in a progressive era requires several preconditions to come true. If he's the match, here's the kindling:
Bush and Conservatism Failed. Every presidency makes mistakes, blunders, and shades the truth: conversations about presidential administrations usually permit a healthy debate on whether the gains exceed the failures. George W. Bush is actually, provably different. He and his allies are the dog that caught the car when in 2001 they controlled the executive branch, the legislative branch, a majority of the judiciary, and the corporate community as well--and then proceeded to blow it.
His eight years in office were a complete, abysmal failure. How else can one describe ruining our global reputation; condoning torture; invading a country that never attacked us, based on false information; borrowing trillions from the future and Chinese in order to enrich our wealthiest citizens; generating only one third of the jobs produced in the prior administration; ignoring global warming; failing to react adequately to Hurricane Katrina yet over-reacting to Terry Schiavo; watching 50 top appointees resign after scandals alongside two White House aides who were convicted of crimes, the first such staff in 150 years; and--for an encore--presiding over the near collapse of our financial system and ushering in a economic recession? All this while waving both the flag and the bloody shirt of 9/11.
Bush's dwindling supporters are now left with predicting a Truman-like vindication in 50 years; the last refuge for those losing a debate on the facts is to hypothesize future redemption, since it cannot be logically disproved today. Already only two of 109 historians have concluded that Bush's presidency is a success--98 percent is a big negative vote whether in elections or among historians.
Nor can conservatives argue that President Bush and Vice President Cheney betrayed conservatism. That administration was plenty conservative on the core tests of national security, taxes, choice and culture. But when confronted with 21st-century problems of slow job growth, accelerating gas prices, and stunning income and wealth inequality, conservatism had no ready answers. A domestic policy based on laissez-faire had nothing to say to families with shrinking incomes who were losing their homes to shady mortgage brokers.
America Is More Progressive. In large measure because of this failure, America is changing into a more progressive place. Karl Rove's grandiose plan for a 50-year conservative realignment is obviously in ruins.
Rhetorically, it's still a fairly conservative country, with more citizens self- identifying with the word "conservative" than the word "liberal" and with denunciations of "tax-and-spend liberals" and "activist judges" continuing to find an audience. But operationally, the country is becoming more liberal--all polls indicate significant majorities who are pro-environment, pro-choice, pro-civil rights, pro-Social Security, as well as anti-Iraq war, anti-big business and anti-tax breaks for the top one percent. When asked in a Pew poll whether a person favored "bigger government, more services" over "smaller government, fewer services," Americans favored the smaller government option by 15 percentage points in 2001 and the bigger government option by a point in 2008.
And on the issue of race: while mixed marriages were illegal in 22 states in 1961, a man born that year of just such a relationship will be sworn in as president of the United States in 2009.
As the country's minority population becomes a larger percentage of all, politics also shifts. Combining Bush and demographics, the trend line is clear: whereas Democratic and Republican registration numbers were even in 2005, today the more progressive party has taken a 37 to 29-percent lead; in the 2006 congressional elections, 18- to 29 year olds supported Democratic congressional candidates by a 60- to 38-percent margin--and the margin was even larger for the 2008 Democratic presidential nominee. The Democratic Party's popularity with young voters, shaped by Clinton's successful presidency (he left office with over a 60 percent favorable rating) and Bush's failed one (under 30 percent) are likely to endure over their lifetimes. Professional families and single person households, both of which trend significantly Democratic, are also on the rise.
"On domestic issues," conclude Richard Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru in the National Review, "it is almost impossible to exaggerate the Democratic advantage." According to Republican strategist Ed Rollins, "Today, if you're not rich or Southern or born again, the chances of your being a Republican are not great."
Grass-roots Fervor Is Rising. Because in a democracy intensity can count every bit as much as a majority, leaders often follow movements rather than vice-versa. Labor organizers pushed FDR to propose many of his New Deal reforms. The civil rights laws of the 1960s were preceded by protests comprised largely of blacks and students. Environmentalists organizing Earth Day, not President Richard Nixon's walks on the beach in his dress shoes, crystallized into the Environmental Protection Agency.
In the late 1970s, due to stagflation, the Iranian hostage crisis and a very spirited conservative movement, the public began demanding less government and taxes. That led in 1978 both to enactment of Prop 13 in California, which slashed property taxes, and the defeat of the federal Consumer Protection Agency bill, and then of course to the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Anti- tax libertarians and pin-striped populists were on the march.
Today the new energy appears to be far more economically populist, anti- war and pro-environment. Turnouts in Democratic primaries were sometimes double the election cycle before. The explosive growth of the Internet and the net-roots community heavily tilts to Blue America. Six years ago, the Center for American Progress, the Huffington Post, Media Matters and Air America Media didn't exist, and Move On had only a fraction of its current reach. This new democratization of news and views means that millions now get their information directly, quickly and inexpensively from independent advocates, not just through such intermediaries such as the major corporate news media. Indeed, while presidents must calculate how to speak to America through the major networks, the 44th president is himself a network with 10 million email names he can text or talk to at will. He and future 21st-century presidents will not have to wait for fireside chats or weekly radio addresses to have a one- way conversation with a public increasingly expecting to have two-way conversations with an internet-savvy chief executive.
Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin framed it well.
History suggests that unless a progressive president is able to mobilize widespread support for significant change in the country at large, it's not enough to have a congressional majority. For example, Bill Clinton had a Democratic majority when he failed to get health reform. When you look at the periods of social change, in each instance the president used leadership not only to get the public involved in understanding what the problems were but to create a fervent desire to address those problems in a meaningful way.
Smart Government Is Back. For years government has been a four-letter word indistinguishable from bureaucracy. Governors Carter and Reagan rode anti-government sentiment into the White House, as the belief that government can help people fell by half from the 1970s to the 1990s. Even Bill Clinton famously said that "the era of big government is over" (although the blame- government-first crowd blithely chose to ignore his next qualifier, "but we cannot go back to the time when our citizens were left to fend for themselves").
Ironically, it was government failures such as the Vietnam War and Watergate--epochal events having nothing to do with the progressive community or values--which shrank the credibility of government, which is often the instrument of progressive reform. But Reagan's inaugural observation that "Government is not the solution, government is the problem" has now fallen flat after events ranging from Hurricane Katrina to E-coli outbreaks, from dangerous Chinese toys to collapsed mines in West Virginia and Utah, from millions losing their homes in foreclosures to inadequate care in veterans facilities. No, the "problem" wasn't government regulation but weakened levees, uninsured and unemployed Americans, mortgage crooks, Enron executives, dangerous food, drugs and workplaces, and tax cuts to billionaires while fighting two wars. Explained author Jacob Hacker in The Great Risk Shift: "People are more worried about Big Insecurity than Big Government."
Surely, market fundamentalism as a reigning economic philosophy reached its nadir with former Fed chair Alan Greenspan's testimony before Chairman Henry Waxman's Government Affairs Subcommittee in late October 2008. When asked whether the near collapse of capital markets of late 2008 didn't expose the failure of his exuberant view that markets were perfectly self-correct- ing, this oracle of free markets and Ayn Rand replied, "absolutely...I was shocked... I made a mistake." In other words, laissez wasn't always fair.
Clinton's and Bush's presidential terms then, for very different reasons, have helped to restore public faith in the power of positive government. For his part, Clinton's agenda of crime reduction, welfare reform and budget balancing not only worked programmatically but also helped take the historic monkey of "big, bloated government" off the backs of federal regulators. And Bush's failures made the public yearn for real solutions rather than merely invoking the "greed is good" ethic of Gordon Gekko in Wall Street.
At the same time, a progressive community used their time out-of-power after 2000 to rethink and re-plan at least as well their conservative counterparts did after the 1964 Goldwater shellacking. So by 2008, a body of work had developed over time--in think tanks, universities, congressional offices--that together constituted a progressive plan to renew Washington and America. Change for America, therefore, is not based simply on more-big-government--"cap-and- trade" is not just old-fashioned command-and-control regulation--but on more transparent, accountable and common-sense government that looks to the market when it can as well as to regulation when it must.
Four Values for America
The 44th president can find early success if he were simply able to appoint competent people, obey the law and tell the truth, unlike recent history. Assuming, however, that the new president wants to do more than go back to the future, there's the need for a plan. We call it "Progressive Patriotism" because there's nothing more American than always seeking to do things better.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan especially understood that broad themes and big ideas move America more than any particular program or policy. Historian Sean Wilentz reports that Reagan once told his barber that as president he had tried to lower taxes, raise morale, increase defense spending, face down the Soviet Union and shrink government. Contending that he had done all but the last, Reagan concluded, "four out of five ain't bad."
Only a new president can ultimately decide how his majority converts into his mandate. What changes must be on his early list; what should be? Will he be largely reactive, putting out fires, or visionary, creating fire prevention policies? Does he start with another economic stimulus and energy conservation ... or children's health and the policy on torture? What's an early win that can snowball into a landslide of legislation?
Does he listen to Cassandra's urging centrist caution or move boldly for more transformational change during a window of opportunity, especially in 2009-2010?
These are hard decisions for a new White House. To help that process, we propose a plan for Progressive Patriotism that is built on four cornerstones: democracy, diplomacy, economic opportunity, and a greener world. This Introduction and book will describe what's wrong and then what's next, based on these four core values with the expectation that 2009 may begin a transition not only between presidencies but also between governing paradigms.
Value 1: A Stronger Democracy
Whereas issues involving war and economy invariably trump other voter issues, and 2008 was no exception, the process of democracy should be a bedrock American concern because process is policy. "If we want to solve our problems," writes contributor Michael Waldman in his book, A Return to Common Sense, then "we have to fix our systems." When the mechanism of democracy is broken--when there's such secrecy, disenfranchisement, lawlessness, dishonesty, and special interest domination that people can't have access to decision-makers --the government won't act in the public interest. If you care about reforming, say, Pentagon contracting rules, environmental regulation, tax policy or foreign aide, Congress needs to reform democracy itself.
So just as Ronald Reagan kept referring back to Freedom as a primary value, Barack Obama can hold up Democracy as his primary value. It's a good time to not only wave the flag but also to pursue policies that honor what it represents, for the world's oldest democracy has become less democratic.
Over two centuries America has been lurching toward a "more perfect union." Slavery was abolished, women and then blacks won the right to vote, workers pioneered workplace democracy by winning the right to collectively bargain, and limits were put on what big interests could contribute to campaigns. Over the past eight years, however, a group of new authoritarians in the Executive Branch, the Congress and the courts have posed a clear and present danger to our democratic and constitutional traditions.
Consider voting rights, executive abuse and the rule of law.
Although our democracy ranks in the bottom fifth in turnout of all democracies, the Bush administration's Justice Department focused not on expanding voter turnout but on so-called voter fraud. As discussed in the chapters on civil rights and the Department of Justice, the Civil Rights Division did not bring one case against the suppression of minority voters, but instead pressured U.S. Attorneys to concentrate on cases against people presumably voting illegally. This happens, however, about as often as someone getting hit by lightning, according to a study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, since it's extremely unlikely that a person will risk prosecution and jail to join a conspiracy that adds his/her one extra vote to an election total.
Then citing the "war on terror" after 9/11, the Bush-Cheney Administration came up with a theory of the "unitary executive," which basically assumed that the president could ignore any law during wartime as commander-in-chief.
This was both unprecedented and radical since the war on terror would never be over and the president, per the Constitution, is commander-in-chief of the military, not the country. (The theory should not have been surprising, however, for it was Representative Richard Cheney whose dissent to the 1987 congressional Iran-Contra Report concluded that a president, in emergencies, should resort to "monarchical" remedies.)
This was too much for even a U.S. Supreme Court with a majority of Republican appointees. Four times it ruled that the Bush administration was denying due process of law to Guantanamo detainees. "A state of war," wrote then justice Sandra Day O'Connor, "is not a blank check for the president." It was a combination of Kafka and Orwell for an American government to argue that it could imprison people forever without a hearing or a charge--in the name of protecting Western values.
The Bush White House again and again ignored precedent--by using 1,100 so-called Signing Statements; neglecting 4th Amendment requirements for probable cause under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act; employing politicized hiring practices at the Justice Department; failing to enforce the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts; and ignoring domestic law and international treaties against torture. Apparently when George W. Bush took his oath of office "to faithfully execute the laws," he took it literally.
As this era of extremism posing as patriotism is ending, the 44th president can pursue a Democracy Agenda--expanding the franchise, transparency, accountability and the rule of law. He could
• create universal voter enrollment, which could add up to 50 million voters to the rolls;
• make it a crime for any person or official to actively suppress the vote by any form of intimidation;
• enact a public finance law to help provide a funding floor under congressional candidates to help level the financial playing field;
• establish federal standards for electronic voting, with paper-verifiable ballots, same-day registration, voting by mail and felony enfranchisement laws, so all states come into the 21st century in technology and process;
• encourage instant runoff elections assuming that primary winners would have majority support in one round of voting;
• create an independent, bi-partisan commission, with subpoena power, to investigate all the allegedly illegal conduct by administration officials, as proposed by the author and lawyer Frederick A.O. Schwarz of the Brennan Center for Justice;
• instruct the Federal Communications Commission to make sure every home has affordable access to a broadband network of at least 100 megabits per second by the year 2012; and
• create a White House Office of Democracy ("Democracy Czar") to push for all of these and other pro-democracy reforms throughout the government since the only way such important but non-headline reforms can be enacted by the congressional and executive branch bureaucracies, in my view, is if there's a known emissary advocating on behalf of a committed president.
Value 2: Economic Opportunity
America has never begrudged people becoming rich, so long as everyone has a shot at it. As Abraham Lincoln said, all should have "an open field and a fair chance [for their] industry, enterprise, and intelligence."
By that standard, the American economy in 2008 is failing. As the wide- ranging chapters on the economy detail, most Americans feel as if they are always running faster after an accelerating bus called prosperity.
Economic metrics reflect this split-level economy, with a new aristocracy of wealth and a floundering middle class. Between 1979 and 2005, the top 1 percent of income earners have enjoyed a 176 percent income rise, while the bottom 20 percent experiencing only a 9 percent rise. Based on data going back to 1913, income is now more concentrated among the top 1 percent of house- holds than any year except one--1928. While economic insecurity is up, economic mobility is down. About two-fifths of Americans born into a family in the bottom fifth stay in that rut as adults, while nearly the same percentage born into the top quintile stay there as adults--the only industrialized country with less upward mobility is Great Britain.
Half of all workers report total savings and investments of under $50,000, while a quarter of all workers and retirees report no savings of any kind. In this past decade alone, the number of people without health insurance rose to over 46 million in 2006 from 38.4 million in 2000. And in 2005, the head of Exxon- Mobil, Lee Raymond, earned more (counting stock options) per hour than his average blue-collar worker did per year. Yet the minimum wage has fallen a third in real terms over the past two decades.
Hence the "hollowing out" of the middle class, as tax cuts engorge the super-rich while the flight of manufacturing jobs, higher unemployment, and growth of low wage/low-benefits service sector jobs shrink median incomes. This is partly due to the "invisible hand" of global economic trends, where $3- an-hour Mexican laborers and 67¢-an-hour Chinese can produce cheaper cars than their $24-an-hour American counterparts. But it is also due to the very visible hand of public policy. Just as Franklin Roosevelt's labor and regulatory policies and Truman's GI bill helped create the American middle class, Reagan's and the Bush's labor, tax and deregulatory policies are shrinking it. Over the past 60 years, it's therefore not surprising that the real incomes of the middle class rose twice as fast and that of the working poor rose six times as fast during Democratic administrations.
The best way to lift people up from poverty and help the middle class is for the 44th president to concentrate on the value of economic opportunity for all, on linking GDP growth with real income growth for those with median incomes, on fulfilling the dream of that first Republican president to provide "a fair chance" to all workers.
While any economic reforms will have to adapt to the ongoing financial and credit crisis, an Economic Opportunity Agenda would aim to:
• create a true progressive tax system by reducing rates on those earning under $200,000 and raising top rates on the fortunate few back at least to 38 percent, as in the 1990s when the economy was steaming ahead--and extend the estate tax, with exemptions on the first $3.5 million;
• expand the federally funded State Children's Health Insurance Program so all children have health care irrespective of their parents' employment--and then push for some version of universal health insurance, ideally with a "Medicare for All" program that the public would understand;
• cut poverty by half by 2016, as Peter Edelman and Angela Glover Blackwell argue, by focusing on programs that help children from birth to 5 years of age, starting with a program for "Universal Pre-K" for 4 year-olds to make sure that they're ready to learn when they enter kindergarten, and requiring a "Children's Impact Statement" for every federal law that might have an impact on children;
• shift $150 billion annually spent on nation building in Iraq to nation building in America by creating a National Infrastructure Bank that would in- vest in economic growth over the next decade;
• strengthen unions--one of the few mechanisms able to improve real income for workers--by enacting the Employee Free Choice Act, appointing NLRB commissioners who don't ignore the labor laws, hiring enough inspectors to effectively enforce labor health/safety laws at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and implementing ergonomics standards;
• establish a wage-loss insurance program to help workers, for a specific period of time, who lose their jobs and are forced to take a new job at a lower wage;
• create a single toll-free number as well as one-stop centers that handle all reemployment issues, from job search, to training, health, mortgage and unemployment insurance; and
• enact a program to give four-year scholarships annually to 10,000 college students who will become primary-school teachers of science, math, engineering and technology.
Is all this just "class warfare," according to the rhetoric of conservatism? Answers Warren Buffett, now the wealthiest American: "It's class warfare only because my class started it and is winning." What's required is nothing less than a new social compact between managers/owners, workers, and government.
Value 3: Diplomacy for Security
Winston Churchill and FDR understood the value of collective security and diplomacy. Both were witness to the fierce nationalism and pride that helped ignite World War I and both were determined toward the end of the next World War to make sure that allies with common interests had common institutions. Therefore, they began to put in place international organizations like the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank--as one scholar put it, "the architecture of internationalism that Woodrow Wilson dreamed of."
To these men, talking to your enemies was not a form of appeasement, which Churchill knew plenty about since he succeeded Neville Chamberlain, but a rational means to avoid conflict. In Churchill's famous aphorism, "to jaw jaw is always better than to war war."
George W. Bush graduated from a very different school of thought. In the eyes of the world and many Americans, our leading exports seem to be war and financial calamity. Given our participation both in preemptive war and in a policy of torture and since so many international problems cannot be solved by nations acting alone, it's time for the 44th president to return to FDR's and Churchill's vision by issuing in effect a Declaration of Interdependence. Pollution, extreme weather, AIDs and other pandemics, terrorism, refugee flows, and nuclear proliferation don't respect sovereign borders. The only way to defeat these threats is for nation states to engage in collective security rather than hide behind Maginot lines or oceans. As the author of the State Department chapter, Gregory B. Craig, puts it, "There are other, more effective ways of exercising influence in this world than military force, such as an America more active and engaged diplomatically on every front." Recall also the presidential nominee in 2008 who said, "We must be willing to listen to our democratic allies. Being a great power does not mean that we can do whatever we want whenever we want ..." That nominee was John McCain.
Diplomacy simply means using a mix of carrots and sticks to advance our interests, which so often now are also the interests of others. When we are seen as doing good by talking rather than bullying--as Truman did with the Marshall Plan, as Bush 43 has done on HIV/AIDS in much of Africa--we recruit others to join us in common problem-solving. The goal is to convince powerful and emerging states to become stakeholders in the global economy and in joint responses to terrorism. Our foreign policy authors explain how a new president should:
• withdraw responsibly from Iraq and repudiate the strategy of preemptive regime change by military means--and engage in diplomatic efforts with the parties in Iraq and then with its neighbors Iran, Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States;
• shut down Guantanamo, provide due process rights to remaining detainees, as the Supreme Court has insisted, and end the practice of torture by again complying with the Geneva Conventions, the Convention Against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
• give a speech in a major European capital calling for a new alliance to combat and prevent terrorism throughout the world by coordinating the work of police and military, conducting special operations, sharing information more quickly, and creating an international legal framework that's more effective in capturing, trying and convicting terrorists;
• support the creation of an International Peace Corps modeled on our domestic version, first proposed by Crown Prince Hamzah of Jordan five years ago;
• promote more trade with provisions for labor and environmental standards so we don't have a "race to the bottom" like industrial America did in the 1890s;
• seriously participate in the Copenhagen round to reduce global warming, not just issue late rhetorical appeals for reductions decades hence; and
• aspire to the abolition of nuclear weapons worldwide by, first, establishing the primary strategic objective of preventing any new actors--state or non-state--from seeking or acquiring nuclear weapons and, second, reducing towards zero the risk that actors who already have nuclear arms will use them.
Value 4: A Greener World
Not that long ago conservatives regularly mocked liberals as "tree huggers" and George H. W. Bush referred to Al Gore as "the ozone man." But that was before human-made climate change produced six of the hottest eight years of the past century, four of the most severe hurricanes, and the melting of Arctic and Antarctic ice--and before the concept of "peak oil" boosted price by the barrel and at the pump, and nearly all scientists agreed that unmitigated climate change would lead to massive casualties as oceans surged and desperate neighboring nations went to war.
Despite this amount of evidence, the past eight years have been lost time when it comes to the problems of environmental pollution and global warming. At the final G8 Summit of his presidency, Bush agreed to the unanimous goal "of moving to a carbon-free society" by hoping to reduce heat-trapping greenhouse gases 50 percent by the year 2050--and then actually joked as he walked off the stage, "goodbye from the world's biggest polluter."
Given all these sins of emission and omission, the 44th president will have public support to launch an Apollo-like project to produce a green, low-carbon economy that delivers more prosperity by making our nation more energy efficient and internationally competitive. The only way to serve as a model to China and India is to build a green consciousness into every economic decision, every transportation decision, every tax decision, every regulatory decision. It will no longer do to treat energy and environment as "an" issue in its own silo--like, say, education or fiscal policy or antitrust enforcement. For climate change is "the" only issue simultaneously affecting our economic health, physical health, and national security.
Since America has been responsible for some 30 percent of worldwide carbon emissions over the past century, we must acknowledge our responsibility and lead the world in declaring that this country cannot "drill and burn" our way out of our addiction to fossil fuels but instead must "invest, invent and conserve" our way forward. As Bracken Hendricks and Van Jones write in their overview on the climate crisis, "The 'clean tech' revolution and the transformation of our aging energy infrastructure is poised to become the next great engine for American innovation, productivity and job growth, as well as social equity gains. Building a clean energy economy can generate hundreds of billions of dollars of productive new investments on the scale of the greatest periods of past American economic expansion." A "clean tech revolution" requires:
• the creation of a new White House "National Energy Council" that is the equivalent of the National Security Council for climate change--coordinating all other energy-related departments to advance the president's message and program for a greener world--and it should oversee producing biennial reports for the White House and Congress on the ongoing effects of extreme weather on human health and the environment, like a Census on the climate;
• the implementation of a carbon "cap and trade" system that sells corporations permits to emit greenhouse gases and that can push us from a high carbon to a renewable energy economy, generate hundreds of billions in revenues annually to promote alternative energy sources like wind, solar and biomass and provide rebates to struggling Americans hit with higher energy prices;
• the application of a National Energy Efficiency Resource Standard to require utilities to cut energy use by 10 percent by 2020, including retrofits of non-weatherized housing;
• the implementation of the Renewable Energy Policy Project's plan of a $62 billion investment to expand wind capacity by 125,000 megawatts over 10 years to help stabilize U.S. carbon emissions and create nearly 400,000 domestic manufacturing jobs;
• stronger appliance efficiency standards that are mandatory and reflect the best available technology;
• a program to develop a new line of ultra-efficient vehicles, such as plug-in hybrids that can get 100 miles per gallon as well as new battery systems-- and also to insist on far stricter auto fuel efficiency standards since auto fuel efficiency was flat for two decades and today Europe has achieved averages of 40 mpg as contrasted with our 27 mpg;
• mandatory policies to increase electricity generated from renewables, something dropped from the 2007 Energy Bill;
• a joint U.S.-China R&D project to develop new carbon capture-and- storage technology for coal-fired plants; and
• a program requiring that the federal government, which controls billions of square feet of building space and hundreds of billions of dollars in procurement contracts, reduce its carbon footprint by altering purchasing decisions, improving vehicle fleet management, retrofitting buildings and providing bonus points for bidders who meet green standards.
Conclusion: Teacher-In-Chief in the New Mainstream
Not since 1933 has there been a presidential handoff involving a bigger gap in philosophy at a more difficult time. The economy is suffering from a crisis of confidence and credit, as jobs disappear and real incomes shrink over a decade.
With the backdrop of an intractable war in Iraq in the most fractious region on earth, America is reviled by many nations around the world for appearing to emphasize the power of our arms rather the power of our values. Terrorism is on the rise around the globe--and at home, plutocracy seems to be growing just as democracy is eroding. Human-made climate change threatens our country and planet while hyper-partisanship and special interest money seem to be in the saddle in Washington.
While exceptional, America may not be immune. Will she fade like Rome, Russia, Japan and Great Britain did in earlier epochs? Or is there a real chance for a renewal?
Walt Kelly's cartoon character Pogo once referred to a dire situation as presenting "insurmountable opportunities"--and as author Tom Friedman keeps reminding us, "a crisis is a terrible thing to waste." Now, in the midst of these multiple crises, the 2008 election has put in place the first progressive president and progressive congressional majority in nearly 50 years. For Obama to rise to this occasion and become a 21st-century FDR or LBJ requires that he seize two approaches during his transition and early months.
Stylistically, while of course the commander-in-chief during wartime, the president is also the teacher-in-chief, what Teddy Roosevelt famously called the Bully Pulpit. Here we should give George W. Bush credit: while he won office by one vote, in the Supreme Court, he acted like a huge Electoral College winner in unapologetically describing and pursuing his conservative agenda, especially after the unifying tragedy of 9/11. In a similar display of leadership, the 44th chief executive should send to the rhetorical dustbin all talk of "death taxes," "mushroom clouds," and "the culture of life" and instead constantly remind citizens of the urgency of equal justice in America, global warming, a low carbon economy, universal health care, and wage-insurance. Think of the way FDR spoke not of a "bank moratorium" in his first week in office but a "bank holiday." And remember how fast America went from golf to Ian Fleming when we went from Ike to JFK? With a smart teacher-in-chief in the White House knowing George Lakoff's and Drew Westin's phone numbers, the frames of policy must now surely change.
Substantively, four huge policy problems are being left on the new president's doorstep. Yet each has answers that are practicable, plausible and linked to the four core values articulated earlier:
• Withdraw from Iraq safely, end torture and restore our global standing by means of collective security to solve other transnational challenges;
• Stabilize the economy and advance economic opportunity so that average income finally starts rising after a stagnant eight years and all families have access to quality, affordable health care;
• Shift to a green economy so we enhance our national, family and economic security;
• Fix our democracy so we don't again have public opinion going in one direction but public policy in another.
The obstacles to these transformational changes are not facts but stale thinking.
Anachronistic analysts will argue that this is still a "center-right" country and the 44th president shouldn't move too far left, as Newsweek cautioned in anticipation of Obama's Inaugural. But the suggestion that Obama should "move" to the center ignores that recently the center has moved to the left. "For Much of the Country, a Sizeable Shift," was a banner post-election head- line in the New York Times. Voters appeared to render a negative verdict on preventive wars, trickle-down economics, financial deregulation, executive abuses, and theocracy over science. Precisely because conservative values crashed into a reef called reality, it has created a new mainstream, a new mandate for change. This collapse and the '08 elections alone did not create a new progressive era--Rove's earlier hubris should caution us to that--but the opportunity for a new progressive era.
It's now up to the new president during his transition and "first hundred days" to tactically deploy executive orders, major addresses, well-chosen visits and proposed legislation to convey his substance, his strategy, his plan, his narrative. He got elected by focusing on "change," presumably from Bush--now he has to explain change for what? As this book describes in detail, Barack Obama can ideally reframe the American conversation around democracy, diplomacy, opportunity and a greener world.
What's at stake is a better America by 2016.