The American people made history Tuesday, and no matter who you voted for, you can take pride in the fact that this is a country where any kid really can grow up to be president. President-elect Barack Obama proves that.
In other words, this is a land of opportunity, more so than any other place on the face of the earth — even our beloved Israel. Now that’s something all Americans can beam about.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is now that Obama has made history he needs to make changes — real changes in the way this country is governed. And that is far more difficult than winning an election.
Obama need not do it alone. In fact, he can’t. The same people who participated in this election in record numbers must stay active for the next four years. The two parties must learn to overcome their differences, and their leaders must lead by example.
Despite that tall order, the change must still begin with our new president. We think he should begin in the areas where the Bush administration fell far short.
Here are a few:
Global warming. Yes, Virginia, there is global warming; even the Bush administration came to acknowledge that. And it is largely man-made — all the evidence points to that difficult reality. Unfortunately, the current president gave the issue no more than lip service. In doing so, he failed the country, and the world.
When New York Times columnist Tom Friedman visited Pittsburgh in September he said of the so-called environmental revolution sweeping the world, “I’ve never seen a revolution where someone didn’t get hurt.” That means the next president must propose painful, unpopular initiatives, and we must seriously consider them — smaller cars, less energy consumption, less convenient fuel sources, perhaps even higher taxes to pay for new initiatives. We can’t wave a bloody shirt every time the “T” word is mentioned.
And we must pressure the developing world, namely China and India, to do more. The growth rate of energy usage in those two countries alone is staggering, enough to wipe out whatever conservation measures are going on here. That’s why a global climate initiative is long overdue.
Jerusalem. Obama took a lot of heat over the summer — and rightly so — for endorsing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel then quickly backing away from that position. What he should have done was stick to his guns, but make clear that accommodation for the Palestinians can be made as well. We have said before in this space that Jerusalem need not be divided to serve two flags. A Palestinian capital could exist there much the same way the United Nations exists in New York. It could even serve as a model to other hot spots around the world such as northern Iraq and Tibet. That’s just one option, of course; there could be others. In any event, recognition of Israel’s legitimate capital city is long overdue, and Obama must make good on his original position.
Health care. The number of Americans who live without decent access to health care, who must sometimes choose to buy groceries or buy medicine, is not acceptable. Liberals and conservatives — we normally stay away from those labels — can and will clash over the wisdom of a national health care system. But as Jews, our values teach us to help all in need. We don’t necessarily favor a British-style health care system, and neither does Obama. He has advocated a system where Americans can keep their health plans if they like them, but that some layered system that serves the rest of us ought to exist. With tweaking, we think such a concept can find common ground among Democrats and Republicans.
Education. By accident of birth, too many children are condemned to a substandard education. We’ve seen it too many times here in western Pennsylvania where resource-starved school districts with names like Clairton, Duquesne, Wilkinsburg, Sto-Rox and Midland are forced to limp along, providing unequal education to kids whose only crime is to be born into the wrong place and family. State and local governments perpetuate this sin (we carefully chose that word) by allowing the same flawed, property tax-based education system to continue. No Child Left Behind is an unfunded mandate that does too little to solve the problem. The next president must address this issue directly.
We’re not dreamers. We know these issues can’t be solved overnight. And with the country grappling with a trillion dollar deficit and a free-falling banking system, addressing these issues seems almost impossible.
But address them we must. With a renewed example of concern shown by the White House, we believe there’s no telling what a public-private sector partnership can accomplish during the Barack Obama administration.
On second thought, maybe we are dreamers, and proud of it.