I must admit that I am increasingly confident that Barak Obama will have a second term. The new poll from CBS/New York Times indicates as I have suggested before that Obama is in good shape.
Showing steady improvement since early December, Mr. Obama’s approval rating has reached the 50 percent mark in The Times/CBS News poll — an important baseline in presidential politics and his highest approval rating since May 2010 (excepting the brief bump he received after Navy Seals killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011).
It is clear that Axelrod and Co. have suckered the Republicans into a battle over birth control! How 1950’s. This may actually lead to Rick Santorum grabbing the nomination on platform that even Barry Goldwater would have thought too right wing.
So then my mind turns to the battles of a second term. I think they will revolve around defense, disruption and devolution.
On defense the battle lines are already being drawn, with progressives who want to make a once in a generation complete reordering of the Pentagon’s stranglehold on our discretionary spending, having already won giant cuts if Congress does nothing. On the other side are Panetta, and the Republicans railing against the coming cuts.
The overall spending was dictated by the budget agreement that Obama and congressional Republicans reached last August that calls for defense cuts of $487 billion over a decade. More troubling to Panetta and lawmakers is the likelihood that automatic, across-the-board cuts will kick in in January unless Congress can come up with at least $1.2 trillion in savings.
The additional $500 billion of cuts would still leave the U.S. Military far larger than any potential rival. Of course the new focus on the Pacific is designed to start another mindless arms race with the Chinese, just like the criminal waste of money from 1950-1989 on the Soviet Arms Race. This needs to be stopped.
The notion of disruption is drawn from David Brooks’ important essay, The Materialist Fallacy, which seeks to unpack the social disruption in America’s poor communities.
First, no matter how social disorganization got started, once it starts, it takes on a momentum of its own. People who grow up in disrupted communities are more likely to lead disrupted lives as adults, magnifying disorder from one generation to the next.
Second, it’s not true that people in disorganized neighborhoods have bad values. Their goals are not different from everybody else’s. It’s that they lack the social capital to enact those values.
Third, while individuals are to be held responsible for their behavior, social context is more powerful than we thought. If any of us grew up in a neighborhood where a third of the men dropped out of school, we’d be much worse off, too.
As Adam Gopnick has so convincingly pointed out, “Six million people are under correctional supervision in the U.S.—more than were in Stalin’s gulags.”
For American prisoners, huge numbers of whom are serving sentences much longer than those given for similar crimes anywhere else in the civilized world—Texas alone has sentenced more than four hundred teen-agers to life imprisonment—time becomes in every sense this thing you serve…More than half of all black men without a high-school diploma go to prison at some time in their lives. Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today—perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850. In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal-justice system—in prison, on probation, or on parole—than were in slavery then.
If Obama doesn’t do something dramatic to address social disruption in his second term he will have failed. These are hard truths, but as Brooks points out, suggesting the problem is just one of money is folly.
And then finally there is devolution. As regular readers of this blog know, this is somewhat of an obsession of mine. In forty years in business it has become obvious that the only way to manage a culture of innovation is to push as much power as possible to the edges of an organization. Maintain at corporate headquarters only those central functions like finance and communications that can service the whole organization. Give individual operating units as much operating leeway as possible. The same should apply to our government. We call it the New Federalism.
So let me specify what I think we need a Federal Government for:Departments of Defense, State, Treasury, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security as well as Social Security and Medicare benefits. Everything else should be a State matter. Certainly law enforcement agencies like the FBI and SEC would operate at the Federal Level to enforce Federal statutes, but the funding and the personnel for the departments of Education, Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Commerce, Transportation and Labor should primarily exist at the State level. Obviously both the Housing and the Agriculture departments in California and Mississippi would be concerned with very different issues. And of course as the Imperial Dreams of America come down to earth, the bloated Defense and Homeland Security budgets would shrink dramatically.
I’m convinced this is the only way we can get control of our politics. I’m also convinced that only a second term president, with nothing left to lose, could take on these three hot button issues. If we trim our defense spending, commit to tackle the problems of social disruption and poverty and push both taxing and governing power out to the cities and states–then we stand a chance of bringing on an American Renaissance.