Regardless of whether you were happy about yesterday's outcome, I think we can all agree on one thing:
There's a lot of work to do.
So, I figured I'd jot a few things down I think the President should spend his time doing between now and 2016.
1. Play nice.
The Democrats don't control the government, so if both sides can't work together, we're going to sit stagnant and deadlocked for the next four years while the rest of the world moves forward. Obama's great failure in his first time was trying to push through policy without comprimise. He alienated the Republicans just as much as they dug in their heals. Both sides need to meet in the middle. Without this, we can kiss the other nine things off this list because it will never happen.
2. Open up.
Our immigration policy is utterly ridiculous. I have a friend that had to move back to Canada after living here 13 years because her company stopped paying her and she couldn't find anyone to pick up her visa. She had no friends or life there, and she continues to freelance for US companies. Instead, she spends most of her dollars there. That's just stupid. Immigrants have been behind some of the greatest entrepreneurial successes this country has ever seen--and we need to stop treating people from other countries as people who want to bomb us and start recognizing that anyone with good ideas and hard to find skills or the willingness to work should have a sensible path to making a life here and productively contributing to society.
3. Be strong, on a budget.
Gone are the days of wars fought with big iron. We don't need to out tank other world powers anymore. Our foreign policy needs to be fought with brains rather than muscle--and even the muscle needs to be leaner and faster, and more economically efficient. We had just as great a military during the Clinton years, but we spend a ton more for it now--undoubtedly long on weapons that could destroy most of our opponents eight times over. How can we right size our military budget while remaining a force for peace and justice. We can no longer afford to fight wars on a credit card.
4. Educate for skills, not for degrees--and make smart cool again.
It's becoming more and more obvious that spending a quarter of a million dollars for an English degree has questionable ROI these days. We talk a lot about getting everyone a college degree, but I'm not convinced that everyone needs one. Our country is becoming short on technical and specialized manufacturing skills. We need to make sure that people can afford to get the skills they need to be productive members of the workforce. That's more than just providing more loans. That's changing the way we're taught from day one. That also means changing the culture around education. How can you get kids more into building robots than watching reality TV? Solve that and I feel like all our other problems will get fixed.
5. Set an agenda for addressing climate change and the environment.
New Yorkers have seen two major hurricanes in two years. Droughts are widespread. We need to figure out how to deal with our changing environment before we're forced to jetski to work. This includes energy efficiency and safety. There's too much at stake not to figure out how to make energy production cleaner and safer.
6. Get healthy.
I thought Michele Obama was going to do more to refocus our country on our poor health and obesity issues. The best prescription for growing healthcare costs is to not need healthcare in the first place. If we don't do something about the food we eat and the amount of exercise we get, we'll never get out of the healthcare cost issue. I'd like to see more of a focus here. Heart disease is the number one killer in the US. Preventative care is the best investment we can make in our health, so let's get people educated and make it harder to eat yourself to death, especially in poor areas.
7. It's the economy.
The reason why I put the economy so low here is because I don't honestly believe that the President can really effect the economy much. The economy happens to the President more than the President guides it in any way--other than in dramatic interventions. Our economic problems now are structural more than they are cyclical. Lower classes don't have enough mobility--financial literacy is poor, so households are mired in debt. People don't have the right skillsets to compete. These aren't the kinds of things that get solved month to month when the unemployment rate comes out. I'm encouraged to see the return of some manufacturing to the US, but that's going to be a function of skills and innovation, and less current policy.
8. Continue to push for civil rights.
The tide is turning. Gay men and women, minorities, and women are making great strides when it comes to leveling the playing field, but that needs to continue to happen and we have to make sure that we never turn around and move backwards. Anyone who thinks that we're always going to be a country driven by old straight white men is just on the wrong side of history. Diversity of perspective is how we innovate, stay out of war, and work together to solve tough problems. It's not just about rights--its about being a better and stronger society.
9. Send Donald Trump back into the hole he crawled out of.
I mean, seriously. Is anything this guy does or says moving anyone in any direction but backwards? I don't know what the President can do about this, but there are ways, no? Because if not, I know a guy... ;)
10. Get people involved.
In 2008, the masses came out in great numbers to help elect Obama. Since then, we really haven't done too much. We need to get more actively involved in our goverment--and that starts with understanding the issues and understanding what we can do about them. How do you get a SOPA/PIPA-like outcry for every issue that is meaningful to someone? We've become way too disenchanted to solve our tough problems together, because government can't do it alone.