My Open Letter to Barack Obama
Dear Mr. President:
Sure, there's technically a few days to go, but George Bush clearly punched out a long time ago and you're pretty much doing the job already.
The occasion of your inauguration is special to many Americans for many different reasons. My special pride is in seeing someone of my own generation take over the tremendous responsibility you face, and in being one of those who was there from the beginning.
I've never before seen my first choice get nominated, let alone get elected, before. My caucus support has been the kiss of death to Gary Hart, Jesse Jackson, Tom Harkin, Bill Bradley, and Howard Dean. I was almost afraid to support you for fear I would jinx you. And I've never seen someone so much like me, shaped by the same era of events that has shaped my life, as our leader.
You've campaigned as someone who will reach across the aisle and change the attack dynamic that has dominated American politics throughout our mutual adult life. By and large that is good. But please remember, as the old saying goes, to dance with those that brung ya. That means, as the late great Paul Wellstone used to say, the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.
The Iowa caucuses started you on the road that led to this day, and no place in Iowa supported you more, in both the caucus and the general election, than the People's Republic of Johnson County. Remember what it is that us lefties, your earliest supporters, asked of you then.
Peace. We know the economy has taken precedence in most people's minds. But the Iraq war gave you the opening that led to your victory. About the time you both announced your candidacies, Hillary Clinton told us, "If the most important thing to any of you is choosing someone who did not cast that vote or has said his vote was a mistake, then there are others to choose from." Many of us heard that and said, “OK, then,” and chose you from among the others.
We welcome Secretary of State Clinton to your team—-our team. But we remind you that the goal, first and foremost, must be getting out and getting home. And that will require addressing the issues and policies that have turned much of the world against us, some of which are playing out in the battered tenements of Gaza.
When I watched you in Europe and the Middle East last summer, I thought: “the world wants to love us again.” It was never America the world hated, it was only our policies and leaders. Which means we also need:
Accountability for the Bush years. That means more than the policy reversals you're likely to implement. It means going back, identifying those who broke national and international law, and punishing them from the top down. You need to re-establish the principle that we are a nation of laws and not of men, we are a nation that does not torture, we are a nation that does not start pre-emptive wars based on lies.
Perhaps this will strain the bipartisanship you seek, but with the Bush Administration safely out of power, perhaps small government Republicans who value principle and privacy will be free to support the prusuit of justice.
Real Economic Reform. The details of the stimulus and infrastructure packages will get hammered out one way or another. But real economic reform means a long-term reversal of the trickle-up economics of the Bush, Reagan, and, frankly, Clinton years. It means, yes, spreading the wealth around a little. And since there's no better economic stimulus that a well-paying union job, it means getting the Employee Free Choice Act passed.
Health Care. The fast movement on SCHIP is good. But you've said that if we were building a health care system from scratch that single payer would be the way to go. Please consider that the system may already be so broken it can't be fixed, and that we should start from scratch.
Finally, don't be afraid to lead. Our history has taught us, sadly, that majorities can be wrong. Too many of our “leaders” in recent years have instead been followers, reading polls with fingers to the wind. If most of us are wrong, ask more of us. Get ahead of the polls on an issue like, say, marriage equality. Persuade us.
Even many of those who did not support you are ready to give you a chance, and their voices need to be heard too. But please remember the voices of those of us who have been with you from the beginning.