Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Election is Over - Now the Hard Work Can Begin

It seems like the Presidential election has been going on for two years. [Oh, it has, never mind.]

But it's over now.

We now have President-elect Barack Obama. Congratulations.

Now the hard work begins.

Over the course of the long campaign we have heard a lot of ideas for change. Some of them are workable, and some of them are...well, maybe not. The financial meltdown pretty much quashed some of the grand plans. Others may take a little longer to accomplish. Frankly, I think Obama was pretty clear during the campaign that change wasn't going to be easy. And it won't be. So how do we do it?

For starters, the President-elect has to choose his cabinet and advisors wisely. Like Lincoln's "Team of Rivals" (thank you Doris Kearns Goodwin), Obama should look for the best combination of people with vision along with varying viewpoints. Whereas the outgoing Administration was noted for it's preference of like-thinking advisors, the incoming Administration should seek a wide range of views. Good ideas are not restricted to one political party, and neither are bad ones. The central focus should be on defining the key priorities for the future, evaluating all the possible options, and finding a path forward. The development of these priorities and ideas needs to be as open and transparent as possible. No edicts from above. Rather, there should be public discourse and buy-in to the priorities we set. Obviously there are things that cannot be discussed in public - certain national security strategies come to mind - but the goal should be to involve the American public as much as possible. And Obama should lead for all Americans. He acknowledged this in his speech last night - "I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your president, too." No more games. It's time to lead.

Another key is Congress. The election brought an even larger majority to the Democrats in both the House and the Senate. More importantly, we now have the Democrats controlling both of the main operating branches of the federal government. This gives the potential for great power. But as they say, with great power comes great responsibility. The Republican party controlled both houses of Congress and the White House, and frankly, they blew it. They saw it as a mechanism for securing their own party power rather than a mechanism for moving legislation that benefited all Americans. In all fairness, the Democrats didn't particularly use their power wisely either the last time they controlled both branches. It's time that Congress learned its lesson. Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid must act responsibly and ensure that important issues are brought to the floor for debate. They must ensure that the minority party gets a realistic say in how legislation is shaped. And the minority party (i.e., the Republicans) must play nice. No more stonewalling so nothing gets done just so you can get reelected by arguing the Democrats didn't accomplish anything. Both parties need to remember that they are elected to represent the people - not themselves - and not just the half or so of the public that voted for them, but all of the people. No more games. It's time to govern.

And the final key, of course, is us. We, the people. Our responsibility for governing this country doesn't end on election day. It begins. We must become informed as much as possible about key issues. The real issues, not the wedge issues that we argue over constantly and don't ever change. We need to tell our elected representatives that we want them to deal with the national debt, social security and medicare, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, climate change, environmental degradation, soaring health care costs, energy, education, international relations, etc. These are the issues that are why we have a federal level government. We must make it clear we want the President and Congress to deal with these issues. But we must also be honest with ourselves and our elected officials. We reward pandering, and so they have little choice but to pander. We complain about Congress incessantly, and then we reelect the incumbent 98+% of the time. We have an obligation to learn, and to make informed choices. And this means all of us. Not just the Democrats who have just seen their candidate elected. All of us. The Democrats in Congress can't accomplish much without the Republicans, and vice-versa. We all have one thing in common. We are all Americans. We all want the same things - peace, prosperity, and a welcome place to raise our families. And we want to leave behind a country and a planet for our children and grandchildren without also leaving them with a huge invoice for our short-sighted mistakes. We can only achieve our long term goals if we band together. We did it after 9/11. We can do it again. And we can start in our own communities. No more games. It's time for taking responsibility for our own actions.

And so, now that the election is behind us, we must focus on making the future better than the past. We all have a role to play in the grand scheme of managing this country. No more games.

It's time to do it right.

Let's get started.

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