I have been absolutely inspired by the president's deficit reduction speech. I have gone from despair over a lack of vision to a real sense of hope and I'm not alone. Over the weekend, I attended a conference with about 1,000 of my generation's top entrepreneurs. Some of the brightest minds under 30 were represented and all were incredibly bullish on green tech, social entrepreneurship and any sort of new technology.
It's exactly the sort of group that was electrified by Barack Obama in 2008, and yet not a single panel at the event was dedicated to politics and more telling, we could barely pull together 10 people to talk about the president's reelection campaign. Most of my discussion with the few other politicos at the event centered around how we could possibly reengage the young people who had been so instrumental in electing the president the first time around. How could we get young people to believe again that Barrack Obama was their candidate and that he represents the values of our generation? In delivering the best speech of his presidency thus far, in front of an audience of GW college students no less, Obama began to answer that question.
Present in yesterday's speech were all the elements that have been lacking from the administration's approach as of late and that had so electrified us in 2008. The speech was post-partisan. It would have been politically easy to use this speech as an opportunity to fully bash Republicans for creating a massive deficit under 8 years of the Bush Administration and for proposing a non-serious and truly shocking budget. Instead, the president took pains to cite examples of the two parties coming together to solve tough budget problems in the past and describes Republicans as sincere about wanting to do right by their country? He definitely takes some shots at the Paul Ryan plan in order to draw a contrast with his own plan, but the overall tone was conciliatory.
The speech was optimistic. In stark contrast to Republican gloom and doom, which emphasizes that we can't afford anything for anyone, the president reminds us in this speech of the greatness of America and a few of the many incredible feats we've accomplished in our short history.
The speech was also honest. President Obama spells out in clear terms how we got to this place, and the major categories driving our deficit. He speaks to us like we are adults saying that: "most Americans tend to dislike government spending in the abstract, but like the stuff that it buys." He also reminds us that "two-thirds of our budget is spent on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and national security." Everything else accounts for just 12 percent of our budget. On the other hand, honesty was sorely lacking from the Paul Ryan plan which relied on some absolutely ridiculous Heritage Foundation projections, an inaccurate portrayal of how our financial problems came about in the first place, and fuzzy language about saving Medicare and Medicaid while actually dismantling them in order to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy.
But most of all, the president clearly articulated an unflinchingly progressive but non-ideological vision for the country. His plan includes tax increases for wealthy Americans and a decrease in defense spending, to the horror of Conservatives. On the other hand, it also calls for keeping domestic spending low by "building on the savings that both parties agreed to last week," and looks for further reforms in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. In other words, the president calls for a balanced approach along the lines of what was spelled out by the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction commission, but his vision is distinctly progressive.
He doesn't shy away from talking about income inequality. He stresses the importance of investments in clean energy, education, and infrastructure. He also states in no uncertain terms that he will preserve Medicare and Medicaid, "as a promise we make to each other in this society." This is the America the president believes in and it's the one I believe in too. This is the America where the talents and ambitions of all of our citizens are leveraged and where any little boy or girl, regardless of zip code, income bracket, or skin color can be anything they want to be (including President of the United States!).
Watching this speech, I remembered all of the reasons I was so excited about Candidate Obama in 2008. I hope that as it has energized me, it will be the first step to re-energizing America's young people. I've written before that I believe my parent's generation started off with an optimistic view of politics and became cynical over time. I believe our generation inherited our parent's cynicism but has become more hopeful over time. My greatest fear is that we lose that optimism.
Our country cannot afford to have the greatest minds of our generation sitting on the sidelines. It can be tempting to disengage from politics. The system is a mess; many of the players are corrupt; the posturing and chest-beating are disgusting. Nevertheless, the truth is that what's at stake is just too important. It occurred to me, while I was at my weekend conference, that the many startup businesses represented there would live or die depending on the political landscape. What's more though, our country's future as a compassionate, prosperous, environmentally responsible nation will live or die depending on the political landscape. The vision articulated by President Obama this week is one that I believe in and one I am ready to fight for. Bring on 2012.