ok, that was the easy part… now it’s time to get to work.

My friend Murph, who I can always count on to be a bit of a downer, in the wake of last night’s historic election, said something to the affect of, “I had high hopes when Democrats took over Congress too.” And it’s a valid point. The Democrats under Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have, for whatever reason, been reluctant, even when they had the power to do so, to combat Bush. True, there have been some notable exceptions, like fighting the Republicans on their efforts to privatize Social Security, but, for the most part, there hasn’t been much pushback against the Bush agenda.

So, I can appreciate the reluctance to invest too much faith in Obama. I can see how some, not wanting to have their dreams crushed and hearts broken yet again, might be holding themselves back from joining in on the chants of “Yes We Can.” I get it. I do. But something tells me that this is different. And I’ll be the first to admit that it might be foolish to do so. After all, Obama, as a Senator, has voted to authorize torture, give immunity to communications companies guilty of spying on American citizens, and give away $700 billion to the incompetent CEOs of Wall Street. He’s not perfect by any means. But — and this is an enormous but — I think he shows more potential than any leader I’ve known in my lifetime since Robert Kennedy.

Politics is a dirty sport, and, up till now, I think he’s done what he’s needed to do in order to get elected. Yes, in a prefect world, he would have voted the right way every time, but this isn’t a perfect world. This is a world in which a vote perceived as not being “against terrorism” could end a political career. I’m not excusing his votes — I’m just saying that, for whatever reason, I’m confident that, now that he’s at the helm, we’ll see him start to guide this giant ship of ours back in the right direction. I don’t think he’ll just give us Americans what we want, like the ever triangulating Clinton. I think he’ll push us, and demand more from us. I think he’ll be a real leader, who doesn’t shy away from difficult issues.

But, to a large extent, it’s in our hands. We have to support him when he needs our support, and we need to remind him when he’s not being ambitious enough. We’ve seen over these past several months what can happen when the American people get engaged. It’s beautiful, and inspiring, and we need to make sure that it continues. We need to keep the immigrants, the students, the poor, and the folks who aren’t white engaged in the democratic process. We can’t let the infrastructure that we’ve built just wither away. If anything, we need to grow it. We need to organize our neighborhoods, keep each other informed, and, when necessary, come together to demand better of our leaders.

We didn’t just turn a new page in American history last night, or start a new chapter. We began a whole new book. And it’s up to us as to how that book begins, and how the story is told. We need to take responsibility for that.

Following are a few rough notes on the areas where I would like to see Obama and Congress focus. It’s not an exhaustive list. It’s just the start of a skeleton outline. If you have thoughts, leave a comment. At some point, I’ll pull everything together and send it to President-elect Obama.

Restoring our Constitutional Foundation: We need, as soon as possible, to convene a panel of legal scholars to look at every piece of legislation passed over the last 8 years, determining what needs to be fixed in order to restore the Constitution underpinnings of the system on which our nation is built. We need to restore habeas corpus, end warrantless wiretapping, reassess the Patriot Act, and — even though it might make the President’s job more difficult — restore the checks and balances on the Executive branch, and put an end to the theory of the unitary executive, which Bush operated under. We need to make sure for future generations that our President is not above the law. (If there were ever a time to put a Constitutional scholar in the White House, it’s now.)

Ethics and Election Reform: Our lobbying system needs to be, if not completely destroyed, at least significantly reformed. We’ve put it off far too long. It will, no doubt, be a difficult and painful process, but we need to divorce money from politics completely. We need to increase transparency on every level, and we need to move toward public financing of campaigns. Politicians should not be spending their time fund-raising. They should be doing the work of the men and women of this country… Again, given Obama’s unusual ability to fund-raise, it’s going to be difficult for him to give that up in favor of capped public financing, but this kind of reform has to come from someone in his position. Whereas the Republicans might not have gotten on board with public financing earlier, maybe they would now, as it would level the playing field a bit for their next challenger. We should take advantage of that. As for elections themselves, we need to make absolutely sure that there is no electronic voting without auditable paper trails. We also need to consider making Election Day a national holiday, and pursuing other initiatives that would make elections more inclusive like day-of registration.

Education: We need to reevaluate our priorities, placing education higher on the list. If we’re to address the many serious problems facing us, we’re going to need to raise a brilliant, high-achieving generation. We need to encourage our best and brightest to go into teaching, and we need to ensure that they have the resources they need to do their jobs… And, across the board, we need to stop dumbing down the American discourse. Wherever possible, we need to replace Joe Six-Pack with Joe the Scientist. We need to stop asking ourselves what politician we’d like to have a beer with, and start asking which politician would inspire us to pick up a book instead of a beer. Anti-intellectualism has to stop. We need a President who makes it a point to surround himself with not only science, but the arts, bringing poets, writers and artists to the White House. Why not have our new First Lady to start a book club, and begin to influence our culture in that way? Why not subsidize college degrees in K-12 education? There’s endless potential.

Investigate the Bush Administration: I wouldn’t want to pursue this if it meant slowing down other necessary reforms, but I do think, at some point, it will be critical that we ask the question, “What laws have been broken?” We need to look back into Cheney’s secret meetings on energy policy, and we need to look into the “evidence” that took us to war in Iraq. Even if there are no criminal prosecutions, we need, for the sake of history, to know what happened.

Fiscal Responsibility: We need to stop the bailout of our financial institutions where it stands, before all $700 billion are allocated, and reassess the program, making sure that it’s in the best long term interests of the American people. The same goes of all corporate subsidies, especially those to oil companies… And, under this same heading, we need to address the tax system, making it easier for people to understand, making it less burdensome on working families, and limiting the loopholes used by corporations and the wealthy to hide assets. Furthermore, we need to reinstitute the inheritance tax.

Food Policy: We need to look at our current system from top to bottom, pursuing opportunities to re-localize production, decrease the use of petroleum-based fertilizers, protect farmland, and ensure security. I suspect he’s read it already, but I’d suggest that Obama look at Michael Pollan’s last piece for the New York Times Magazine, which really gets to the heart of the issue.

Develop a Culture of Conservation and Service: We need to accept that the solution isn’t just alternative energy, but that it has to include some element of conservation and sacrifice. We need to realize that we can’t just shop our way out of any problem. After 9/11, Bush told people they could best help by going shopping. We need a leader who instead inspires people to get involved in their communities, and help create innovative solutions to local problems. We need people to feel empowered to pitch in, and Obama, I think, has the ability to do that. Instead of bringing winning sports teams to the White House, why not invite kids that have set up neighborhood composting initiatives, and families that have cut their energy usage dramatically through innovative means?

Rail: We have to invest in railroads for mass transit and cargo. The United States rail infrastructure is woefully out of date. If we want to combat global warming, we need to get away from long-haul, over-the-road trucking, and back to rail, which is considerably more efficient. And we need local light rail to offset the use of individual vehicles. (Good urban rail would also serve the purpose of incentivizing people to live in metropolitan areas, decreasing suburban sprawl, and preserving farmland.)

Energy and Global Warming: Obama has said that he intends to follow through on Al Gore’s ten year challenge to get the United States off of fossil fuel. We need to make sure that he keeps that promise. We need to fund research into renewable sources for electricity, and, the same time, we need to invest in building out a smart grid across the United States capable of efficiently and reliably transporting the energy we need. We also need to get serious about working with other global leaders on energy-related issues like Global Warming, whether it’s through the Kyoto Protocol, or other programs.

And, hopefully, if we do all of that, we’ll reestablish America as the shining beacon of hope that it once was.

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19 Comments

  1. mark
    Posted November 5, 2008 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

    I should have also mentioned the funding of the space program somewhere, as well as the funding of basic scientific research (in areas other than alternative energy, which I did mention).

  2. Brackache
    Posted November 5, 2008 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

    Do the Constitution one first and completely before tackling the other ones, and I’m 100% with you, tablespoon and bacon grease rarin’ to go. Please make sure to keep a running update, so I know how big a tub to bring to the Corner.

  3. mark
    Posted November 5, 2008 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

    For those of you who didn’t read Brackache’s comment in the other thread, he’s promised to eat one heaping tablespoon of bacon grease for every piece of unconstitutional legislation that Obama has struck down.

    I’m writing a letter to President-elect Obama right now, making him aware of the offer.

  4. Posted November 5, 2008 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

    Yep, Obama, in an interview in Time, mentioned reading the Pollan piece. Good interview, here.

  5. Posted November 6, 2008 at 6:31 am | Permalink

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  6. Posted November 6, 2008 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    I’d like to note for the record that, downer though I can be, it was not me who made that comment on the other thread. That was somebody named “Murf”. (Apparently I’ve got grounds for trademark dilution claims against said person…)

    Admittedly, I was the person on that thread who referred to the Democratic Party as spending the past several years kowtowing to Bush, rather than providing any meaningful resistance (call it “checks and balances” if you prefer).

    I think that a number of the things you mention are clearly possible – “restoring the constitution”, for example, just takes the political will to do so. (And, if Obama makes it a priority, I don’t think the 41+ Republican Senators will stand in the way.)

    I can see it being very difficult for Obama to make that a priority, though. Between war and financial crisis, it’s probably going to be a while before he can work around to something so esoteric as constitutional reform.

    I’m hopeful, though, that the political game’s rules have been changed. Most of the stuff you mention requires money, and has been underfunded for decades, if at all. With $700b in financial rescue package tossed out there like it was candy at a parade, can anybody claim that, say, $5b for Amtrak capital improvements is “too much” money?

  7. marc
    Posted November 6, 2008 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    It’s high time for a change in leadership. I vote that we keep this new Murf. Old Murph has not made life any better for us.

    I also think Raj sounds like an asshole.

  8. Posted November 6, 2008 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    Let me add to education that we need to focus on equality: eliminating the achievement gap and working towards inclusion of all students, regardless of their label. I’d like to see a higher ratio of state and national funding as opposed to our current system that’s heavily weighted towards local funding, which puts inner city schools at a huge disadvantage and perpetuates the poverty cycle.

    Yes, more funding for the arts, and more differentiated learning environments where student creativity and innovative ideas are fostered. Less emphasis on standardized testing while still holding students and teachers accountable for achievement.

    And for the record, I think beer and books should be given equal priority.

  9. Posted November 6, 2008 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    With adults, that is, not with students :)

  10. Murf
    Posted November 6, 2008 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Mark. For a minute there I too was getting my Murph/f’s confused. I’m not saying I’m not excited because I was hoping he would win…I’m just more reserved because of Pelosi and also cursed PBS for showing all the previous Democratic conventions and watching the one for Harry S Truman in which I realized that NOTHING has changed in 60 years. He talked about overcrowding in schools, health care, etc. I once was as giddy as a school girl. I miss those days.

  11. Brackache
    Posted November 6, 2008 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    …Democratic conventions and watching the one for Harry S Truman in which I realized that NOTHING has changed in 60 years. He talked about overcrowding in schools, health care, etc.

    This is something that deserves to be paid attention to and drawn upon to make sense of the present. Energy independance promises are the same: they’ve been made for decades and nothing’s changed. Remember… (spoken in hammy mesmerist voice).

  12. Meta
    Posted November 6, 2008 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Obama day one:

    http://www.creators.com/editorial_cartoons/1/5684_image.gif

  13. Chelsea
    Posted November 6, 2008 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    “…Politics is a dirty sport, and, up till now, I think he’s done what he’s needed to do in order to get elected. Yes, in a prefect world, he would have voted the right way every time, but this isn’t a perfect world…”

    Doesn’t this sound remarkably like a conversation we had not long ago about John McCain?

  14. Posted November 6, 2008 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    You can share your ideas with the man here.

    http://www.change.gov/

  15. mark
    Posted November 6, 2008 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

    The ACLU has released a transition plan for Obama. They’re suggesting that he do the following three things on day one.

    • Cease and prohibit the use of torture and abuse, without exception, and direct the Attorney General immediately after his or her confirmation to appoint an outside special counsel to investigate and, if warranted, prosecute any violations of federal criminal laws prohibiting torture and abuse;

    • Close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and either charge and try detainees under criminal law in federal criminal courts or before military courts-martial or transfer them to countries where they will not be tortured or detained without charge;

    • Cease and prohibit the practice of extraordinary rendition, which is the transfer of persons, outside of the judicial process, to other countries, including countries that torture or abuse prisoners.

  16. mark
    Posted November 6, 2008 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

    And I think the difference, Chelsea, was a matter of degree. I think that McCain sold his soul for a shot at the White House. I think that Obama made some unfortunate votes. I can distinguish between the two. I don’t think, for instance, that Obama would ever have chosen a Vice President like Palin, who was clearly unqualified, for cynical political reasons. McCain, in doing so, put the future of nation at risk.

  17. Oliva
    Posted November 7, 2008 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad it wasn’t Murph who was the bummer and that Murf clarified the comment “I had high hopes when Democrats took over Congress too.” (This will sound harsh, but reading it made me think of Ralph Nader, eternal bummer, and several others who were doubters to the end.)

    We’ve got to get even better HOPE dispensers in all of our towns and cities and rural hamlets (oh, if only we could have kept that wonderful Obama office open on Michigan Ave., so quickly did it become the heartbeat of Ypsilanti) so that some of the folks who aren’t yet convinced that together we can be a powerful force will become believers and feel it, know it, down deep. Looking back, it could look like extreme naivete that we thought we could do this, but it wasn’t naivete; it was hope and determination and will, and it is an extremely beautiful thing. And we did it!!!

  18. Brackinald Achery
    Posted February 27, 2010 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

    Obama signs one-year extension of Patriot Act.

  19. Posted February 28, 2010 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    You’ll get no defense here, BA. It was a terrible move. And I suspect it has more to do with not wanting to appear soft on terrorism going into the midterm elections than it does anything else.

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