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August 03, 2007

Where do you see yourself in five years?
Posted by Moira Whelan

I skipped the panel on Foreign Policy so I wouldn’t have to compete with Matt, Ezra and Steve for something creative to say, and instead went to a session on the idea of the unitary executive and how the Presidency should really be (if, that is, you believe in American core values).

If you’re in this business (political and/or national security) you’re in it because you want things to be as good as they can be. Aim high and then work for it. We believe societies should flourish, not just survive. We know things aren’t going well now, but instead of just limiting ourselves to fixing what the Bushies have messed up, we need to figure out who we want to be.

The panelists (Jim Deyrych, Michael Connery, Rick Perlstein, Jeffrey Feldman, George Lakoff) had some interesting thoughts on this that I’m sure have been out there, but I haven’t really spent enough time exploring. Jeffrey Feldman stressed that in the “I am the decider” line that we’ve attached to Bush, it’s the “I” factor that is critical, despite the fact that we’ve really focused on the “decider” part. Decisive leadership isn’t really the problem. The “strict father” we’re all supposed to follow is what is the problem for most of us. What we want to see--what is American (as represented by Eisenhower, Kennedy and Clinton)--is when a President talks in terms of “we” as a nation, or in terms of working for us. We’re all about the power of the collective with all the trouble that brings, disagreements and everything.

Another interesting idea is how the concept of accountability has been distorted. The Bushies want us to believe that they will hold people “accountable”—but they’re talking about junior military people at Abu Ghraib, or as Lakoff cited, keeping second graders accountable for their test scores. The American vision is actually the opposite. We believe that those who are in charge and in power are accountable to those who are not.

The overall vision is to remind people that “progressive” ideas are actually…American values. The concepts of protecting freedoms and empowerment of people are what we believe in.

Getting there is certainly not easy, but it’s a much better way to approach things than the “Anything But Bush” approach of which progressives have been accused of pushing (I disagree with that strawman, hence no link to these discussions).


is the alternative to what the Bush Administration has been feeding us all these years. We can’t forget that.

My money is on the candidate who's going to provide the vision. Plenty of people can provide ten point plans and sound policy. But having a good compass in the White House is what makes the difference. As an aside, someone asked today...if it's likely we'll have a progressive in the White House--and we could therefore have ANYONE--I don't understand why people want to support the Establishment. Interesting point.


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Speaking of the "I" factor, these are excepts from a recent speech by Senator Obama:

*I would deploy at least two additional brigades to Afghanistan
*I would increase our non-military aid by $1 billion
*I will send a clear message
*I would make the hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid to Pakistan conditional
*I will not hesitate to use military force to take out terrorists who pose a direct threat to America
*I will strengthen these civilian capacities
*I will also strengthen our intelligence
*I will create a Shared Security Partnership Program
*I will lead a global effort to secure all nuclear weapons
*I will make it a focus of my foreign policy to roll back the tide of hopelessness
*I will double our annual investments
*I will also launch a program of public diplomacy
*I also will reject a legal framework that does not work
*I will establish a Quadrennial Review at the Department of Homeland Security

I'm not contending that these things shouldn't be done, and some of them are true executive functions, but I do criticize the autocratic tone and attitude that seems similar to George Bush's--a tone and attitude that apparently are symptomatic of post-9/11 America where the Commander-in-Chief is The Decider, the undemocratic Father-Knows-Best we 'need' in these largely trumped-up (and created by the government) troubled times. In other words it's Bush paternalism with a new face. I will do this, and I will do that.

Most, if not all, US presidents in the past fifty years have been at least a disappointment and too often abject failures. I contend that this happens because we have too much faith in them, and give them too much power because of that faith. And here we go again, with Obama. He's rising to our expectations, earnestly telling us what he will do. Is that what we really want? A dictator? Or is this still a democracy.

This is different than what I am talking about. Candidates DO need to tell us what they intend to do. I wouldn't ever suggest that they stop doing that. What' I'm talking about is their overarching vision. Things need to be about the collective rather than the individual. Obama does well here---he stressed often that "WE can change the world," and "it's time to turn the page." ---I think it's ridiculous to suggest Obama is a dictator, and I don't really think it's worth getting into why that's a silly accusation about any of the Democratic field.

In Darfur, fighting as another force in another endemic civil war, for dwindling reasons of national security.

I suggest that Obama will still be one helluva great Senator from the fine state of Illinois in five years, and President Hillary Clinton will see to it that she says "hello" at every State of the Union confab.

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