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State of the Union: What We Hope to Hear

January 26, 2010

Executive Secretary Joe Volk regularly reminds us of the importance of practicing hope and the president’s State of the Union speech on Wednesday night seems a good opportunity to stretch my mind in that direction.

I’m not sure what the president will say, but reading some pundits and news reports, I can see the importance of practicing hope. Fortunately, we have an FCNL community around the country that has experience with hope. I believe we also have a president who understands many of the core issues that are at stake here. The question for me is whether the president and his advisers believe they have the political space to act on an agenda for the future?

Here’s what I would like to hear from the president on Wednesday

A Return to the Themes of the First State of the Union: What impressed me last year about the new president’s first state of the union was his insistence that government policy should plan for conditions ten years in the future, not rebuild the old structures that this country had ten years ago. The president argued that our country needs to create a health care system that isn’t headed for bankruptcy, has to take serious steps to cut greenhouse gas pollution, and must address our broken educational system that neither prepares our children for the new economy nor provides continuing education so that we adults can move through the five or six jobs we may have in our adult lifetimes.

That agenda from last year is an agenda that many people in this country understand; patching up the economy so that it works as well as it did in the mid 1990s is not the way forward.

The President could Educate Us About Where the World Is Going: If you’re wondering what that might mean, I would urge you to read Michael Klare’s incisive posting on the world in 2020. Michael, who was a speaker at FCNL’s Annual Meeting several years ago, argues that China will be a leading world power, other countries in the global south will be emerging as important powers in the global economy and the relative importance of the United States in the world will be significantly less. What I appreciate about Michael’s approach is that he’s not arguing the United States will disappear or that gloom and doom is upon is, rather he is using U.S. government statistics to point out that the world is changing and this country needs to change with it.

A Call to Action By the People of this Country: The theme of FCNL’s Annual Meeting in 2008 was a quote from FDR that goes something like this: “You elected me, now organize the movement to make me do what you want.”  The president would do well to appeal for help from the people of this country.  To call on all of us to look at where we think this country is going and to encourage all of us to get in touch with Congress and let our elected representatives in Washington know what kind of country we would like to have in 2020.

Ask a question: Ronald Reagan gained a lot of political capital by asking the people “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” The question I hope President Obama will ask is “Do you think you will be better off in 2020 than you are today if the United States continues along the path the country is headed on today?” Ronald Reagan was an advocate of less government, helped lay the foundations for the tax and government system we had today, and created the movement that says the less government the better. I don’t agree with that approach and I think the push to reduce the size of government regardless of consequences has led to some of the problems the nation faces today. Some people are now arguing that President Obama must now focus on deficit reduction and reigning in the size of government by limiting spending. I’m not an advocate of government spending, but at the same time I don’t think an approach that is limited to focusing on deficits will serve this country well. The question I want the president to ask is what will happen if the government does not fundamentally reform the health care system, does not take serious steps to curb pollution, and doesn’t create incentives to fix our broken educational system?

I hope the president asks that question. If he doesn’t, I hope you will ask that question after the state of the union and encourage others in your community to discuss these questions. Then invite your representative over for a cup of coffee and ask them what they are doing to prepare our country for the year 2020. Imagine the world that is not yet here.

  1. Kathleen Peabody permalink
    January 26, 2010 5:47 pm

    Dear Jim Cason,
    You have most likely shared this with Joshua DuBois of the Administration. He told us in November they want to know what the Quakers think. Will they listen?
    Thank you for your work.
    Kathleen Peabody
    Ann Arbor Friends Meeting

  2. Penny Herd permalink
    January 27, 2010 1:15 pm

    I ditto what Kathleen Peabody has said. It is most important that we focus on the future. Thank you.

    Penny Stow Herd
    Manitou Friends Worship Group of Northwest Lower Michigan

  3. Carole A. Kronberg permalink
    January 27, 2010 3:37 pm

    To Jim Cason:

    I, too, hope President Obama will appeal for help from the People! Most of us think our needs are obvious to this very bright president, but what if he assumes that our common suffering and dissatisfaction is measurable by (limited to) the official record numbers of unemployed, uninsured, foreclosed and/or homeless?

    You and I know the “state of the union” is even worse than that! Inviting input/requests/directives from this country’s countless, super-busy “Good Samaritans” who are quietly, painfully bearing the burden of support for all those financially dependent people might lead to his adopting a more appropriately powerful response. Good idea!

    “Let it BE!”

    Carole A. Kronberg
    in Detroit

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