Debate Forum Left 02/02/11

Who Took Third Place in Miss Alaska?

By Ben Tompkins

Benjamin Tomkins

I’ve never in my life heard a public figure who has such a consistent and level-headed dedication to the elevation of discourse and realistic view of reality as Obama. I think if he weren’t so eloquent it wouldn’t work, because generally partisanship is much more easily digested than a dose of intellectual conscience. For instance, Libertarianism gets a lot of traction these days because you not only get feel superior by bitching about both major political parties but you also get to ignore the practical and moral efficacy of your Ayn Rand solutions when you’re the one with a decent job. Seriously, do you know a single homeless Libertarian? Of course you don’t. As soon as you lose your job, all that nonsense about allowing people who catch a bad break to die in the streets goes out the window.

Now it’s not that I didn’t appreciate that the first five minutes of Obama’s State of the Union address about working together as a team was uplifting, but that was really just a pedestal for the real issue at hand. Namely, we can’t afford treat the world as if this is some big Fox News You Decide poll where we all get together and vote on what we think reality should be. We have to be willing to deal with a changing world, and just like in football, if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. Personally, I think Obama summed it up perfectly:

“Many people watching tonight can probably remember a time when finding a good job meant showing up at a nearby factory or a business downtown. You didn’t always need a degree, and your competition was pretty much limited to your neighbors. If you worked hard, chances are you’d have a job for life, with a decent paycheck, good benefits and the occasional promotion … that world has changed.”

Nail=Head.

We can’t keep offering the same solutions and expecting the same results. You have to win the future, because if you expect the world to hand it to you on the strength of inventing the Saturn V, you’re in for a rude awakening. China doesn’t care what we accomplished in the 1960s any more than we care about what Italy did in 500 BC.  They’d like to put us out to history’s pasture. It’s today’s Sputnik moment that seems to so elude Sarah Palin. We can either keep telling ourselves that going to six different colleges and losing a beauty pageant makes us the best, or we can accept that we need to step it up.

So the rest of his speech can be reduced two basic ideas.  First, an articulation of his vision, and second, how we should implement that vision. The vision is pretty straightforward, and it’s something we’ve all been trying to ignore for two decades. We need to ensure we are number one in modern technology and education. Duh. We can’t pretend anymore. What’s unique is his approach to the implementation.

1.  Promote Innovation

Adaptability and innovation are our greatest strengths. Giving money to oil companies producing yesterday’s energy won’t do us any more good in the long run than the SUVs Ford was producing despite the increase in gas prices. Wealth has to trickle down from a sustainable source, not an antiquated industry. We should give that money to biotechnology and green energy companies that are on the cutting edge of innovation.

2.  Education

Obama said we are ninth in percentage of the population with college degrees. We have the most and best universities in the world. Wow. Who’s sitting on a sore fanny right now? Look, we all know this is a problem and we have for a long time. No Child Left Behind needs to go and things like Race to the Top create a culture of excelling rather than barely living up.

3.  Debt

I appreciate that Obama issued the challenge to reorganize and reform our government and eliminate waste. It sounds like everyone is on board given the standing ovation and hopefully our government is serious.

But most importantly, all of this is about developing the right attitude in our country. We have to play an attacking rather than a defending game, and in order to do that, we have to be willing to push our initiative. “We had no idea how we’d beat [the Russians] to the moon, but after investing in better research and education, we didn’t just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs.”  That’s Obama’s challenge to us: A million EVs by 2015, 80% clean energy by 2035, and massive educational and governmental reform.  If we refuse to accept this challenge, we can expect to find ourselves with the worst hand in poker: second best.

Benjamin Tompkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, CO.  He hates stupidity, and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue.

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