It would be hard to write a blog about change without mentioning the historic events in Washington this week.
But while it’s easy to hold up a “Change” poster at a campaign rally, real change can be hard. It would seem particularly so in politics, where not only are the issues huge and complex but the actors involved answer to a complex network of donors and voters, not just to a boss or two at annual review time.
Americans voted for change, but do we really want it? Are we really prepared for the tough choices Obama mentioned in his inaugural address?
Many Americans like to rail against big government and welfare and socialism — until they want the roads fixed that they most frequently use, or their schools improved, or more cops on the streets of their town. They want an affordable college education for their kids, medical research to save the lives of those they love, maybe even a new park or sports stadium or a tax abatement for an employer that promises local jobs.
We want to pay lower taxes while we want our services improved. Sure, government could be made more efficient, but generally speaking, these two things are at odds but we don’t always like to admit it.
President Obama faces the unenviable task of taking on multiple crises: a recession with complex causes many cannot begin to comprehend, an unpopular war in an unstable part of the world, a division in American politics over deeply emotional issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, the threat of climate change still hanging over us. To begin to tackle even some of these things, he will need to make tough choices. Even if we give up any hope of a balanced budget, our country still can’t do everything all at once.
Perhaps that means Obama’s steady drumbeat of “Yes, we can” needs to morph into a little “yes, we might, but not right now.” And if we really do want change, maybe it means that like the generations that grew victory gardens and held tire drives, we need to see our nation’s problems as ours to solve, too, not just the problems of the banks or politicians.
From Obama’s inaugural address:
What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition on the part of every American that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world; duties that we do not grudgingly accept, but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.
This is the price and the promise of citizenship. This is the source of our confidence — the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny. This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed, why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall; and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served in a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.
If you were sworn in as president this week, how would you decide which changes to make first? Would you go after a few easy wins, low-hanging fruit to show you can do it? Would you fulfill a popular campaign promise? Reach out to build an alliance with a potentially helpful ally? What would you decide could wait?