by Benjamin J. Kirby
Duncan and the children and I are back from a great Thanksgiving break in Arkansas. Took us something like twenty-three hours to drive up there, but as with most journeys, the drive itself was part of the joy of getting away.
Twenty-three hours in the car. With the exception of a couple of minor, well, bumps in the road, it was a perfectly fine drive. I'm really proud of the kids. Emeline was quite well behaved for two days on the road, and Finnegan -- who had to endure the whole thing in a car seat facing backwards -- did a really good job as well.
Poor Duncan spent much of the time trying to entertain me, and like the kids, she did a good job, too.
We talked a lot about the future, which is remarkable in itself, because I'm the sort of navel-gazing goofball who loves to re-evaluate the past again and again. We talked about our future, the future for our kids.
Of course, this got me thinking about the next four years and what President Barack Obama's increasingly decisive re-election win really means.
...and I got nowhere.
I'm not sure when I was more overwhelmed: before the election with the unnecessary deluge of polls and predictions and conversations about polls and predictions -- and conversations about those conversations, or now, as the election-night euphoria has worn off, the early musings about what four more years of Obama in the White House looks like.
Yes, Obama had to hit the ground running to figure out this "fiscal cliff" deal. But the same thing would have been true had Romney won. Frankly, the fiscal cliff itself is less important the the questions raised by the fiscal cliff. Will the very wealthy pay a bit more so that many, many more Americans can continue to have things like Social Security and Medicare? And what about those so-called "entitlement programs" -- which no one is "entitled" to but everyone pays in to? My progressive colleagues call for the head of anyone who mentions cutting them in any way. But I'm not so sure we can't have some intelligent conversations about how to make them work better.
Or maybe it's not even that complicated. If it really is just a question of increasing revenue to ensure these social guarantees continue into the future, then even I would be willing to pay a bit more in taxes for that assurance. And trust me: I'm not one of the rich folks they are talking about taxing. I'm middle class, and I am willing to sacrifice... if only someone would ask.
The fiscal cliff also raises fundamental questions about defense spending. I'm not an expert on defense issues, but it's hard for me to imagine the usefulness of what we spend and produce out of DoD in the name of simply being able to say we have the strongest military in the whole world. When people offer that up, I always think, "What if we had the smartest military in the whole world?" Would we still have gone to Iraq? Would we still be flailing in Afghanistan? Would we still nominate presidential candidate who say that Russia is our number one geopolitical foe?
But I digress back to the campaign. Forgive me.
Beyond the serious -- but, one way or the other, short-term -- fiscal crisis, it's hard to imagine the next four years. Obviously the Democrats would like to be front-and-center on immigration reform. This is one of those rare instances of a confluence between smart politics and smart policy.
The immigration system needs reforming, to be sure -- and Latino voters supported President Obama over Mitt Romney by around seventy percent. Even the GOP -- reeling hard from their electoral losses, and really trying to define just who in the hell they are -- knows they can't be left behind on this issue, and will do whatever it takes to be at the table as this complicated issue is sorted out.
David Remnick had a must-read piece in the New Yorker on the new Obama Administration and climate change, on the heels of the disruption and destruction of Sandy.
This election hinted at the defeat of a certain kind of magical thinking. It was a defeat for the idea that deficits can be reduced with across-the-board tax breaks. It was a defeat for Rovian analysts who defy statistics and infer from the “enthusiasm” of rallies that their man will win in a landslide. It was a defeat for the fantasy that the President was born in Kenya and has a secret socialist agenda.
But Obama must now defeat an especially virulent form of magical thinking, entrenched on Capitol Hill and elsewhere: that a difficulty delayed is a difficulty allayed. Part of American exceptionalism is that, historically, this country has been the exceptional polluter and is therefore exceptionally responsible for leading the effort to heal the planet. It will be a colossal task, enlisting science, engineering, technology, regulation, legislation, and persuasion. We have seen the storms, the droughts, the costs, and the chaos; we know what lies in store if we fail to take action. The effort should begin with a sustained Presidential address to the country, perhaps from the Capitol, on Inauguration Day. It was there that John Kennedy initiated a race to the moon—meagre stakes compared with the health of the planet we inhabit.
"...a colossal task, enlisting science, engineering, technology, regulation, legislation, and persuasion."
Of course, that's one of the reasons it matters that we address global climate change: because it is so hard to do.
This is what we do. It is who we are, and it is why we have the kind of government we have at all -- to do, as President Kennedy said these things, "not because they are easy, but because they are hard."
We have to do it because, yes, the planet needs to heal. But also because we need to show that we can lead on something as monumental as this. We need to change a global culture of waste and destruction, and that change can only begin in Washington, D.C.
I have no idea what the future holds, and I'm too often a coward, which is why I don't like talking about it. It scares me to think that in ten years I'll have an (almost) thirteen year-old daughter, a ten and-a-half year-old son, and who knows who else.
In ten years, the Obama Administration will be a rapidly fading historical reference, behind one term of whoever the next president will be, and a few years into the next administration beyond that. Who will it be? Who will we be? What will America look like? What is the conversation of the future?
Of course, the fun part isn't guessing who we want to be, predicting what we'll be doing or talking about then -- it's the journey we take to get there.