Ten New Year’s Resolutions for The Obama Administration
1. I will inspire. I am one of the most charismatic orators of our generation, but as president, I’ve moved away from that critical element of my leadership. While my speech to the Muslim world in Cairo and on reproductive rights at Notre Dame were inspirational—if I do say so myself—I haven’t brought that eloquence to my key domestic agenda items, or to my broader vision and goals as president. In 2010, I’ll recapture my eloquent voice, communicating the core values and human outcomes of my policies and presidency, then (and only then) explaining how the wonky details will help to achieve them. The values that I led with in my campaign were Community—the idea that we’re all in it together and share responsibility for each other—and Opportunity—the idea that everyone deserves a fair chance to achieve his or her full potential. Those values will return to prominence in my second year as president, and be joined by the values of Peace and Security in our foreign affairs and national defense. I may even dust off Hope and Change.
2. I will be the progressive leader that Americans elected. It’s long been acknowledged by political scientists and pundits that Americans support progressive ideas and policies, but are attracted by conservative political rhetoric. Ronald Reagan knew how to exploit that reality, and the Bushes (and occasionally Bill Clinton) used it effectively. One of my gifts during the campaign was the ability to reunite popular, progressive ideas with a populist language in which everyday Americans could see their own hopes and dreams. In the coming year, I’ll rekindle that skill to promote the progressive policy ideas that Americans embrace, in a language they can connect to and believe in.
3. I will prioritize a strategic mix of populist victories, as well as major advances that require 60 votes in the Senate. I’ve learned a lot through the bruising debates over economic stimulus, banking and auto industry rescue, financial regulation, and health care. And, like all first-term presidents, I may well lose some votes in Congress at the mid-term elections. So once health care reform is behind me, I’m going to work to achieve high profile victories that virtually all Americans can understand—such as incentivizing job creation, job training and skill-building for the global economy; ensuring that stimulus-funded community health clinics and other infrastructure effectively serve a growing number of Americans; and knocking down practical barriers to voting and political participation. At the same time, I’ll set my sights on a few big changes that are likely to require all the votes I can muster—immigration reform and an end to discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans in employment and the military will be among those priorities. In doing so, I won’t start with compromise but, rather, with the legislation I actually want. And I’ll be sure to highlight the human stories behind policies that work and uphold our values.
4. I will be clear about my legislative priorities and draft and introduce the legislation that is most important to me. Economic stimulus and health care reform legislation suffered from my failure to state my core policy principles and fight for them in the legislative process. Going forward, I’ll make clear to lawmakers and the American people what my goals are in the policy arena, and I’ll push hard for those priorities. And for things that are core to my agenda, my administration will draft legislation that clearly establishes those priorities on my terms. I realize I won’t always get what I want, but Congress and the American people will be clear on what their president believes in and why. And I’ll achieve more this way than by the hands-off approach I’ve used so far.
5. I will elevate the eloquent voices in my administration. An unexpected impediment to my agenda has been a lack of effective communicators in positions of visibility in my administration. That’s meant that I have to be spokesman-in-chief for nearly every initiative, and it’s hampered my ability to move forward on multiple fronts. In 2010 I’m going to address that by giving smart and articulate people in my administration—like Jared Bernstein in the Vice President’s Office and Cecilia Muñoz in the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs—a more prominent role in advancing important policies inside and outside the Beltway. At the same time, I’ll make sure that everyone in my administration who goes before a microphone has had the training they need to articulate my agenda in a way that moves hearts and minds as well as policy.
6. I will be post-partisan in my representation of the American people, but realistic about the current partisan politics of Washington. I was right when I said that there is no blue America or red America, only the United States of America. I will continue to listen to and serve everyday Americans of all political and ideological stripes, and I’ll never demonize or play one group of Americans off against another. At the same time, I owe it to all Americans not to let the obstructionist tactics of Washington frustrate our nation’s progress—that’s part of the change that I promised. So while I’ll continue to offer the hand of cooperation to all in Washington, I’ll insist on reciprocation as the price of compromise. And I’ll call out obstructionism–from either party–for what it is. While playing hardball inside the Beltway when I have to, I will more visibly and rigorously cultivate Republican and independent elected officials at the state and local level, many of whom have already shown a willingness to work together on economic recovery, environmental protection, and other important issues.
7. I will respect and motivate my core supporters while connecting their values and goals to those of the broader electorate. As president, I’m not able to mobilize the thousands of volunteers and organizers that I did as a candidate, yet I need that mass movement in order to accomplish the transformative change I’ve promised. Fortunately, there are a range of social justice organizations, faith communities, labor groups, and good government organizations who can turn out the human forces to make change happen. But they need to be motivated by White House policies, as well as oratory, that advance their values and goals. Instead of just handing them marching orders or pushing them to the margins, I’ll connect their priorities to the big goals of job creation, economic security, and opportunity that all Americans seek.
8. I will return to the forward-looking articulation of race in the 21st century that helped to save my candidacy and educate the nation. In my Philadelphia speech during the campaign, I showed that the American people can participate in a nuanced, grown-up conversation about race, and that I can be a leader in that conversation. It was a narrative that praised the progress we’ve made as a nation while acknowledging the distance still to go. It spoke to the reality that barriers to opportunity for any group of Americans are barriers to our success and prosperity as an entire nation. And it reminded us all of the importance of continually building a more perfect union. “Race,” I said, “is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now.” Since the election, though, I’ve been mostly silent on racial equality, then I squandered a teachable moment through ham-handed comments when Henry Louis Gates was arrested, then I rebuffed the Congressional Black Caucus’s concerns about black unemployment by implying that paying attention to black joblessness is tantamount to ignoring the employment challenges facing all Americans. I know better than that. And in 2010, I’ll trust the American people to follow (and sometimes lead) me in a mature conversation about race. At the same time, I’ll attend to the unequal barriers facing some groups of Americans while expanding opportunity for all. Those dual goals are mutually reinforcing and, as I’ve said before, the president has to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.
9. I will nominate constitutional visionaries to the federal judiciary and push for their nomination. After a decade in which 321 mostly ultra-conservative judges nominated by George W. Bush were confirmed and joined the federal bench, the Senate has been exceptionally slow, and often obstructionist, in considering and confirming my judicial nominees—including conservative nominees backed by Republican senators. In 2010, I’ll continue to insist on legal excellence and real-world experience, and I will add to that a search for judicial visionaries who will interpret the Constitution with the forward-looking values of fairness and equal justice for all that the Framers intended.
10. I’ll get more rest and spend more time with Sasha, Malia, and Michelle.