...what Obama Will Ask Us To Do.
On January 20th, Barack Obama will stand in front of the American People, and be sworn in as the 44th President Of The United States. He will have the Nation's attention. There will be a crowd in Washington larger than any Inauguration in history. The television audience will be unparalleled. And we will have all witnessed the continued unraveling of the consumer economy - and perhaps the worst holiday retail season since the Great Depression.
Simply put - he'll have our complete and undivided attention.
He'll have a rare opportunity to use the Inauguration as far more than a symbolic event. It will be his first State Of The Union message and moment where he'll have the moral authority to set an urgent and clear direction for the nation.
Here's the speech I hope he'll deliver:
1. He could put an end to the fear mongering "every man for himself" governance, and speak with passion about our shared future and fortunes. He'll say - "We're all in this together". "Yes we can" will become - "Yes, we must." In hindsight, the past eight years will be remembered as a time of fear and danger. While the dangers facing us are no less real than just after 9/11, the fear mongering and the unraveling economy have Americans on the defensive. That defensive posture can be seen in consumer confidence, lack of new jobs, and the overall stifling of innovation. The Inauguration will be an essential time to turn the tide of defeatism and every-man-for-himself protectionism.
2. Obama can, and should ask every American to join in - and find specific things that individuals can do to lend a hand. He's made it clear during the election that fixing what ails us will take a team effort. Now is the time to rally individuals and ask for personal engagement. For those of us fortunate enough to be in the Knowledge Industries, he'll announce a national mentoring program that will provide a tax incentive for individuals willing to take the unemployed under their wing and teach web, technology, and emerging technology skills.
3. The speech doesn't have to be all high-minded and upbeat. He can warn against dangers as well. He could choose to sternly warn against the profiteering that corporations are engaging in. Certainly, some companies need to cut headcount and trim costs, but these knee jerk, across the board, 10 and 20% cuts are swelling unemployment lines while profitable companies bank savings are driving the economy off a cliff. And it can, and should be, stopped.
4. He should express clearly his vision of a economic rebound driven by innovation, entrepreneurship, and small business. He should announce a micro-loan program for new business - an SBA for new digital innovation. Ideally - this should be anchor of his 'New Deal". Just as FDR used his Inauguration to introduce the New Deal programs that would be quickly and forcefully put in place in the first 100 days of his administration - Obama has a similar mandate and perhaps unparalleled urgency. But funding roads and bridges and public works program can't have the same economic impact that it did back in 1932. To invest in the 'infrastructure' he'll have to look to energy, the internet, and innovation. And I think he will.
5. Finally, the elephant in the room will be Iraq. The costs of the so-called war in Iraq are sapping the resources that could be put into critical economic drivers, and while the economy has moved to the forefront in the minds of many Americans, Obama's steadfast and consistent opposition to the war will be on the minds of many American's when he is sworn in. Tying Iraq to the Economy, and making clear and immediate steps to reduce the free reign that military contractors have had over the past six years.
Obama is an extraordinary orator. So it's reasonable to expect that he'll deliver a passionate, inspirational, expansive speech. But much like FDR, he's got little time to offer vision without a blueprint. He'll need to lay out a vision for shared sacrifice, collective effort, entrepreneurial innovation, energy conservation, and a path to regain our place of leadership in the world.
January 20th is a day that has already been circled in the history books. It is the beginning of the Obama Administration. It is the moment when he will set his course, and as the leader of this majestic and troubled democracy - he'll have to use his hundred days with surgical precision and unparalleled vision. There's lots of reasons to expect no less. He ran his campaign with discipline and focus. He has run the transition similarly. And he seems willing to reach out across both party lines and to former political rivals to get the best and the brightest into positions where they can act swiftly. Perhaps most importantly, he ran a campaign with virtually no internal strife or power-struggles. If he can run his White House with the same equilibrium, he may have a chance to re-set the economy, and ignite the passion of innovation that has been the hallmark of the US economy.
100 days is a short time to fix what is broken. But he doesn't have much more than that.
Demanding big changes, offering big dreams, and painting a picture of an America that we all still imagine - the Inauguration could be the speech of his political career. And, as FDR said - "A Call to Arms" for Americans.