Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama's Task: Reversing Inertia

Yesterday notwithstanding, social change usually comes slowly in America--reflecting a double-edged inertia that can prolong an unfair status quo while promoting stability. But there are times when all bets are off.

This is one of them. "(O)ur time of standing pat," Barack Obama said yesterday, "of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions--that time has surely passed," echoing JFK (“We’ve got to get this country moving again!”) and FDR ("the only thing we have to fear is fear itself--nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance").

Obama's mandate, as both an advocate and exemplar of change, is to renounce the caution and business-as-usual that got us into a mess.

"I hope Obama really is a closet radical," Tom Friedman writes today. "Not radical left or right, just a radical, because this is a radical moment. It is a moment for radical departures from business as usual in so many areas. We can’t thrive as a country any longer by coasting on our reputation, by postponing solutions to every big problem that might involve some pain and by telling ourselves that dramatic new initiatives--like a gasoline tax, national health care or banking reform--are too hard or 'off the table.' So my most fervent hope about President Obama is that he will be as radical as this moment--that he will put everything on the table. "

Priding himself on bringing people together, Obama will try to reverse the Bush-Cheney imperial presidency by working closely with Congress. But after eight years of White House nay-saying, the new president will have to redefine leadership as bold and active in pushing for new solutions.

No-drama is fine as demeanor but not as policy in a desperate time. If the call for drastic action is unnerving, it would be well to remember that radical is not the same as rash in reversing inertia.

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