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How the 'Inflated-Tire' Flap Can Become the Defining Issue of the Campaign: Empowerment

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McCain mocks it. The Obama campaign can respond, in typical Democratic Party fashion, by citing the facts. And, those facts are powerful: more savings in fuel from having properly inflated tires than will be extracted from the offshore oil fields; savings that can occur tomorrow, actually today, at a cost of 50-cents (to use the air-pump at my gasoline station).

Or, we can rail against the oil companies' preferences for more oil sales vs. conservation, where the burning of a gallon of gasoline is a one-shot deal, whereas conserving a gallon is recurrent.

But, there is a more fruitful response. It is rooted in the very sinews of the Obama candidacy, but has not found its voice recently. It goes back to John F Kennedy's "New Frontier," the spiritual connection that probably triggered Caroline Kennedy's unprecedented public endorsement and engagement, and likely Maria Shriver's and Ted Kennedy's as well.

"The New Frontier/ of which I speak"/, said Kennedy in his convention acceptance address, "is not/ a set of promises./ It is/a set of challenges./ It sums up/ not/ what I intend to offer the American people/, but what I intend to ask of them". (// for cadence in case anyone is interested).

McCain mocks Obama's exhortation that "we are the change we have been waiting for." What Obama said during the primaries was that he himself was not going to bring about change, but that it would require the active participation of the American people. Then, and only then, can we defeat the Washington DC culture of lobbyist-generated public policy to the detriment of the American people as a whole.

While inflating our tires is hardly a major sacrifice, it is a concrete example of empowerment, and empowerment strikes fear into the hearts of the elite. That is what McCain -- and expect all the DC-types to chime in -- is really mocking.

McCain is not just mocking Obama, he's mocking YOU. McCain gets his facts, and now his money, from the oil companies.

If the Obama campaign can hunker down and absorb the initial mockery, and instead of responding just with facts, use this as a platform to call the country to shared work and shared sacrifice, and place his policy proposals in that framework, there is an entire nation waiting, begging, for that leadership, and that will respond in droves.

He should call out McCain for mocking the American people.

Obama can use his convention speech, as John F. Kennedy did, to call on our citizens for joint action and shared sacrifice.

The key message is that there will be no free-lunch, that the era of borrow and spend (actually borrow and bribe, but why make this divisive?) is over, but that we cannot make this work unless everyone is engaged and everyone shares the burdens.

We might as well realize it: we are in for a bad patch. The chickens-are-coming-home-to-roost on the next administration, and the first few years will not be pretty, as Obama starts cleaning up the foreign and domestic messes that will be dumped into his lap by our Dear Leader (the paranoia-cum-delusions-of-grandeur parallels between the younger Bush and the younger Kim are grist for psychoanalysts), while also having to handle new matters that inevitably arise. If he thinks his hair has grayed in this election campaign, wait until the end of the first 6 months of his Presidency, he will be silver-maned.

We cannot afford, Obama should say, to remain mired in the dialogue of the past, but to energize all Americans to become part of the solutions. We can empower people by letting them know what they can do as individuals, and how the summing of those individual acts can provide part of the solutions.

We can stop the silliness of our dialogue on the economy by placing it in the context of asking the wealthy to sacrifice by a small uptick in their tax rates and the rest of to share in that sacrifice by strictly adhering to pay-as-you-go spending policies by the federal government. That will force prioritization and tough choices, but, if we are in it together, we can, together, create a better future. It is time for the better off to exhibit just as much patriotism for this country as the men and women in our armed forces who literally lay down their lives for it, whether it is hedge fund managers no longer paying a capital gains rate on ordinary income, or income sheltering offshore. No one wants to tax, and no one wants to have an important project reduced or canceled, but we must sacrifice together to right the wrongs that have been inflicted upon our country by this administration.

It is time, Obama should say, for the nation to unite to face the global world we have entered. Trade, of course, but fair trade. And, working men and women, whose wages have fallen behind gains in productivity now for two decades, need to have their bargaining power restored so that the fruits of success are more equitably shared. If the Bush policies have demonstrated anything, it is that there is no sustained prosperity without a strong and growing middle class.

Again, context: We are never going to create that strong and growing middle class, and sustained prosperity, without a renewable, affordable, non-polluting source of energy. That benefits everyone, and we need to be willing to make short-term shared sacrifices -- money from taxing the oil companies' windfall profits to fund new energy sources, citizens increasing their use of car-pooling and public transport, retrofits to our homes and buildings to save energy, a bargain with the auto industry to take over their legacy costs for a decade, in exchange for hitting aggressive standards for mileage and a cap on the compensation for executives during that decade so that no one is unfairly benefiting while the nation awaits the results, and, yes, inflating our tires.

Nor will we create that strong middle class in this globalized world without removing from businesses the burdens of medical insurance, and providing a national right to affordable access.

None of this, however, will be accomplished without leadership that calls upon our citizens to take concrete, collective action to break the gridlock in Washington DC caused by the system of lobbying and campaign financing.

The paradigm is the first Earth Day, when 20 million of our fellow citizens surprised our politicians with the depth and breadth of their concerns, and then 7 of the first 'dirty-dozen' polluter politicians were defeated, resulting in the next Congress passing the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Environmental Protection Act--and all were signed by Richard Milhouse Nixon!

The Obama Campaign can shout "yes, we can," but only if they will call upon the country for shared sacrifice, shared rewards, and to tough it through together for a better future.

Barack Obama is the leader "we" have been waiting for. I can only hope that he uses his remarkable talents to empower the citizenry and tell us not what he will promise, but what he will ask.

The country is ready.

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