I hope the President-elect, and all Democratic members of congress for that matter, read Tom Friedman’s latest op-ed, “Time to Reboot America” in The New York Times. No one is better than Friedman in describing the general cheesiness and state of disrepair the U.S. infrastructure has fallen into, in stark contrast to the Far East cities of the future. Friedman’s entire article commands a thoughtful read from policy-makers, but I’ll just quote from a couple of nut graphs here:
….If we’re so smart, why are other people living so much better than us? What has become of our infrastructure, which is so crucial to productivity?…we can’t continue in this mode of “Dumb as we wanna be.” We’ve indulged ourselves for too long with tax cuts that we can’t afford, bailouts of auto companies that have become giant wealth-destruction machines, energy prices that do not encourage investment in 21st-century renewable power systems or efficient cars, public schools with no national standards to prevent illiterates from graduating and immigration policies that have our colleges educating the world’s best scientists and engineers and then, when these foreigners graduate, instead of stapling green cards to their diplomas, we order them to go home and start companies to compete against ours.
…That’s why we don’t just need a bailout. We need a reboot. We need a build out. We need a buildup. We need a national makeover. That is why the next few months are among the most important in U.S. history. Because of the financial crisis, Barack Obama has the bipartisan support to spend $1 trillion in stimulus. But we must make certain that every bailout dollar, which we’re borrowing from our kids’ future, is spent wisely.
Friedman is stone cold right that Bush’s “dumb as we wanna be” attitude has failed America miserably. And he is equally correct that the worst thing we could do now is to squander Obama’s hard-earned political capital on pork, golden parachutes, unwinnable wars and other non-productive investments. What Friedman is talking about here is making cost-effective investments in America’s future, not just our physical plant — transportation, energy efficiency, public utilities etc. — but also our intellectual capital, most specifically in education and training.
Yes, Obama needs a New Deal 2.0, but with a critical update, making damn sure the educational infrastructure is in place to modernize America to be competitive in the world marketplace for years to come. Without that clear commitment, any economic recovery will be short-lived.
The President-elect reportedly gets a lot of inspiration from President Lincoln and his ability to heal divisions and neutralize adversaries. But now it’s time for him to read up on another masterful leader, one who overcame fierce political opposition at every turn to put millions of Americans to work rebuilding America’s shabby infrastructure. Not to disparage Lincoln’s greatness as a genuine “uniter, not a divider,” but FDR provides the more instructive role model for a new President at this juncture.
FDR understood the power of building bipartisan consensus, where possible. But he also knew that sometimes a leader has to roll the opposition to win the day. Let the ideologues argue about whether Obama’s victory is a conservative or liberal mandate. Whatever it takes, The President-elect and the party he leads must take no prisoners in the struggle to rebuild America. Obama and all Democratic leaders have spoken eloquently about the urgency of rebuilding the infrastructure. What is now needed is a cast-iron Democratic will to get it done. It will be a brutal battle, but the pay-off will be huge — for Democrats, as well as for America.