Obama, Oh Bummer!

There is something profoundly wrong with the direction in which America is headed. Everyone feels it. Recent polls show it. The number of people who feel despair about our future is surging. Mood in America: Image for articleMany of us felt that with the election of Obama we would have new leadership and vision, we would have productive dialog and a bold change of direction reasserting America’s fundamental greatness, strengths and world leadership.

It has clearly not been the case. We are floundering on the most significant challenges that face us – we have no national energy policy, no honest debate about our role in the world and no definitive prescription for the reduction of our debt and the revival of jobs and the economy.

In the depths of despair, as members of Congress keep playing chicken with the budget and have moronic debates laden with ideological nonsense, a very interesting report was issued by someone at the Pentagon called Mr. Y. The report, which was highlighted by Fareed Zakaria on his Sunday Show, Fareed Zakaria GPS, is titled “A National Strategic Narrative”. Its basic findings are revelatory:

The United States is getting it fundamentally wrong in setting its priorities. It is

  • Overreacting to the Islamist threat.
  • Underinvesting in its youth and domestic strengths.
  • Failing to embrace the sense of competition and opportunity that made us a world power.

Our internal debate is bogus – increasingly consumed by seeing the world through the lens of threat, while failing to understand that influence, competitiveness and innovation are the key to advancing American interests in the modern world.

Even though the report is authored in the Pentagon it makes the bold case that America continues to rely far too heavily on its military as the primary tool of engagement with the world and does not have an honest debate on the harnessing and utilization of its tremendous soft power

Amen. Obama came to power promising change. There is still time to take a bold stance on the key issues that the report says we should pursue and on the primacy of which I wholeheartedly agree with. I also know that Obama himself, when he is not mesmerized by Washington and all its noise, believes this is how we must move.

Obama should think about his legacy and what his presidency could mean to this country. He should act, as I know he is capable of, on the prime areas that need a major change in direction. Here are three  areas where we need a radical shift in priorities:

  1. A comprehensive energy policy to make us self sufficient in the coming years. Obama invoked Kennedy’s national challenge of “Man on the Moon” in his state of the Union speech but has not led with a well defined blueprint. Too much debate, too little action. We have choices: Conservation, Natural Gas, Solar/Wind, More drilling in the short term, Shale oil, Nuclear Power, Clean Coal etc. Have you seen the excellent NOVA program, Power Surge,  last week on PBS covering this topic?
  2. A complete, bold plan for overhauling our bloated and unenforceable tax system and for reigning in the federal debt. As a minimum Obama must endorse the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction plan. It is a great, politically achievable blue print that will go a long way. But, with guts, he could propose something even bolder, simpler and workable – a flat national sales tax or VAT. This option, proposed by Paul O’Neill, the former Treasury secretary has great merit. Imagine: No record keeping, no tax accountants and no spending of billions by lobbyists wanting special tax considerations in Washington! More on this in a future blog.
  3. Innovation and Education promotion. The U.S. invented virtually everything worth inventing in the last century. We are now falling behind tremendously. We need policies that will spur innovation and  entrepreneurship. Hand in hand with that an increased emphasis on education and fundamental research. Think of what would happen if we were to come up with a radical new battery technology, or photosynthesis technology in the lab, or a workable clean coal technology?

Mr. Obama, please wake up. Stop trying to be so dispassionate and incremental. Take some risks. You have the intelligence and the vision  and more power in Washington than you imagine. It will be a sad lost opportunity if you can’t do this. It might even be an existential blow to America’s superpower status.

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