THE BLOG
07/03/2009 02:40 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

On climate, health care, and spending, Obama can't do it alone.

This Fourth of July, it is time for us to lead

It is the responsibility of leaders to make the necessary possible. Needless to say, however, we don't have many true leaders these days, especially in politics.

Too many political animals try to demonstrate their sophistication by letting real solutions languish, simply because advocating them might appear politically naive. That's not sophisticated, strategic, or responsible.

To pretend that a non-solution is real just makes people cynical. To build a movement behind a non-solution wastes peoples' time, unless you have a clear strategic path to leverage it into real change.

Consider the climate issue. The gold standard for solving the climate crisis is a tax shift: cut payroll taxes, and make up the difference with fees on carbon. In a single stroke, we can cut carbon emissions over 20% by 2020, and 80% by around 2050 - just what scientists tell us we need. We get more jobs, higher salaries, bigger profits, cleaner technology, and sustainable growth. Nearly every economist, climate scientist, and expert from Al Gore to James Hansen to Tom Friedman to the Sierra Club agrees.

We need to judge the Waxman-Market climate bill, recently approved by the House, by how close it comes to this ideal. If we let its cap-and-trade component become so compromised that it delays serious action, simply for a symbolic win, we make matters worse.

Or health care. Insurance can be as much a problem as a solution, whether it's private or public. If we hide the true cost of health care by making it always appear free to people, they will get too much of the wrong care, and not enough of the right. Safeway CEO Steve Burd has a more systemic solution - an employer mandate that gives people an incentive to stay healthy without burying them in "free" services that will bankrupt the system.

California's budget crisis is another example. We can't pass a budget in the state because, fundamentally, we have lost our democracy here. Democrats - and Republicans before them - drew the state's political boundaries to guarantee their own re-election. That makes both parties rigid and unwilling to compromise. Result: deadlock. The systemic solutions? Restore democracy with a small d. Allow open primaries. Put reapportionment in the hands of judges. And then end the two-thirds vote requirement for a tax increase.

Fearful politicians won't lead on any of those issues. Their form of "leadership" is to pander to the knee-jerk short-sightedness of their most ardent and angry allies.

President Obama is a true leader for the nation as a whole. But without leadership to drive specific, systemic solutions, by people like you and me, we leave him with no choice. He too will be forced to accept the politically "sophisticated" non-solutions the system offers him.

The necessary is always possible. All it requires is smart strategy, guided by core principles. Pragmatic idealism. Today's progressive leaders need to build a transpartisan movement that can make the Obama presidency a success. We need to build the movement that can advance the practical and idealistic policy ideas of people like Michael Lind and Ted Halstead, journalist Mark Satin, philosopher Ken Wilber; and organizations like the Progressive Policy Institute, the New America Foundation, the U.S. Climate Task Force, Radical Middle, NDN, New Policy Institute and many more. (See especially Mark Satin's list of organizations that have advanced selected radical center ideas.)

Face it: we can't look to our elected leaders. We need to be leaders, fearlessly but strategically advancing systemic solutions. It is our responsibility - yours, mine - to make the necessary possible.