We've all seen how it really played out. But then there is the victory speech in an alternative reality that we probably needed to hear. Imagine the following scene:
President Obama invites a bi-partisan group of heavy hitters and big shots into The Oval Office. He gets a folding chair from next door and sits in front of his desk. The others are interspersed across that classic semi-circle of couches and chairs that frame the center of the room (ideally, he would have reserved Hinkle Fieldhouse to recreate Gene Hackman's "reality check" scene from the film Hoosiers -- but the logistics of getting everyone to Indianapolis at the last minute is probably unrealistic). Boehner, Cantor, Ryan, Rubio...Pelosi, Reid, Durbin, and Schumer. Present. James Carville and Mary Matalin. Check. And off in the back corner, perhaps, both Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles sit together (still largely ignored by most everyone in attendance).
After the perfunctory campaign "thank yous," Mr. Obama begins. While acknowledging a larger context of vitriol and petty obstruction, the President apologizes for his own role in the smallness of a campaign season that cost far too much in time, money, and dignity. He may even embrace the humor of actually beginning this term with an "apology tour", but will be clear that he is only apologizing for himself--and to the American people. With that done, he declares that now is the time to turn a page in American History. The problems are too big and the consequences of delay for the sake of gamesmanship are far too costly. Having run his last campaign, the President is prepared and positioned to get about the business of lasting change.
One-by-one, the president asks each person why they are in the room: A one sentence explanation of their personal calling into politics. No spin. No qualifiers or talking points.
Amazingly, no one claims a burning passion for fundraising or the desire to be a spineless party-hack as a part of their call into public service. Despite the mountain of evidence to the contrary, it would appear that these are all good people. They are sufficiently smart, extremely social, and all choose to spend their vocational efforts in the service of others. We can work with this.
Mr. Obama then expresses in a straightforward manner that America is the greatest country in the world--but qualifies the sentiment with an homage to HBO's The Newsroom:
- The US ranks 15th (of 34 OECD countries) in literacy.
- 14th in teenage suicide.
- 2nd (worst) in child poverty.
- And 1st (worst) in health expenses.
While we could spend forever arguing over the particulars of ranking methodology--none of these arguments radically move us beyond the middle of a global pack. And at the very least, the entire room can get on board with the commitment to climb the ranks in our national sexual stature.
We aren't perfect. But we are America. And we can get better.
Getting better is the agenda -- and here the President puts forward three areas of focus:
- The Lame Duck Session
- The Grand Gesture.
Over the next seven weeks, we will turn Washington on its head. The campaign season has proven that I can handle the 18 hour days of non-stop travel and face-time. I'll take the rest of the week to sleep, but then we will get back to a campaign-like schedule. I'll take meetings on your terms and in your offices -- but we are going to put in the hours necessary to move the conversation beyond talking points and into the basic math that the future of this country depends on.
In 2013, we WILL do a jobs bill. It is an inarguable fact that our physical infrastructure is sadly insufficient for the 21st century. While we all know that bridges and roads come at a high price, we also need to do the math on the billions of dollars that congestion, delayed commutes, and competitive disadvantage costs us every year. In the next year, we're going to build the things that our collective future depends on.
Additionally, I plan an aggressive transparency that will securely tie our legacies together. As we all consider 2014-2016, we get to decide what this combined legacy will be. Comprehensive immigration reform? Campaign finance restructuring? Elevating education? Or how about a serious resetting/rethinking of the size and shape of first-rate American military muscle? We will not do it all, but we will do something. I don't want to sound too hopesy-changey here, but the future demands this much of us.
The national status quo is a death sentence, and the toxicity of this current stalemate does nothing but expedite the downward spiral. Tonight is the first night of a long national dialogue. We will talk much, and listen more. Together, we will rewrite the future.
God bless each of you, and God bless the United States of America. Now, go to bed. Our economy needs you all at work in the morning.