I liked the speech. I accept that it didn’t get into the specifics. But that’s not what this sort of speech is for.
I also accept that it seemed to be full of contradictions: How can you freeze spending while investing in jobs? Simple: it’s about what you think is important, it’s about your priorities. You freeze spending in certain areas while you ramp up investments for the future. You invest in bridges, not bombs. Bridges help us (and our children) move into the future; bombs leave nothing behind but destruction and death.
Granted, creating a sustainable future is easier said than done. But you do have to say it. Otherwise it never gets done.
That’s what leadership is. It is someone standing up and saying, “follow me.” Follow me into a future where we’ve set our priorities so that we can grow the economy, provide jobs, balance our budgets and provide for our families in the way our families provided for us.
It won’t be easy. But I liked how President Obama reached back to “the Sputnik moment” to describe our current position. Granted, the speech was written by a 30-something and delivered by a 40-something, neither of whom were born when the original Sputnik moment happened. But it was an apt metaphor.
“…[H]alf-a-century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik we had no idea how we would beat them to the Moon. The science wasn’t even there yet. NASA didn’t exist.
“But after investing in better research and education, we didn’t just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs.”
So how do you implement this vision? Well, you’re going to have to win elections because you need a majority that agrees with you. Right now, the Democrats do not have that. They squandered the opportunities in the last election cycle. And/But instead of re-hashing what is already past, allow me to imagine the campaign for the next election in 2012.
Hear me out. If I were running for (re)election in 2012 (of course as a Democrat), my platform would have three big things in it:
- Green jobs
- Clean air and water
- Strong national security
Green Jobs: Move our workforce into a sustainable future. For example, take workers off the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and put them to work making wind generators and solar panels. You heard me: the pay is the same; it’s less dangerous; and it’s sustainable:
We need to get behind this innovation. And to help pay for it, I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies. I don’t know if — I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own. So instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s.
…and this leads to Big Thing #2…
Clean Air and Water: No more oil rigs in the Gulf means no more volcanos of oil soiling the water, the beaches and marshes of the Gulf coast. Come on, stop being in denial — you know it’s going to happen again and again and again. So stop tempting fate. There’s too much at stake.
And another thing: hunters and fishermen — not typically a Democratic constituency — will be with you on this. You will get their votes in great numbers because they respect what a clean environment means to them and their children.
In Lousiana, for example, it means giving your children what your parents gave you: an opportunity for a job, an opportunity for recreation, an opportunity for freedom. A filthy environment takes all of that away from you. It forecloses the future.
[Sotto voce: You're also doing the right thing to mitigate climate change.]
All Americans have that common goal: to eventually give the environment to our children so that they can carry on the legacy we received from our parents.
Strong National Security: Energy independence means you can eventually stop being held hostage by hostile oil-producing states that use the money we pay at the pump to fund terrorism around the globe. Dry up that money and you take away a lot of their power.
Again, this is something that everyone — Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives — can agree on: when you buy foreign oil, you are funding terrorists. So move our economy into a greener future. It will provide sustainable jobs and will give our children a cleaner safer world — and make us safer against the outside forces of terror.
So my imaginary stump speech would conclude with this: No one — no nation — has ever cut its way to prosperity. To prosper, you have to do big things.
UPDATE: Here’s how clueless (or just mendacious?) my Congressman Rep. Bill Cassidy (LA-06) is:
“We in Louisiana understand that wind and solar can never replace natural gas and oil, and that’s what he spoke about doing tonight,” Cassidy said after the president’s speech.
That reminds me of what Henry Ford once said: “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”
…Or what I’ve seen on more than one motivational poster: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
…Or what Marshall McLuhan said: “The future of the future is the present. And this is what people are terrified of.”