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Coming Soon: From Whether to How

A week from today, Barack Obama becomes the 44th President of the United States. Of all the hopes that I have for President Obama, the one that I think will be the best for the country is moving us from “Whether” to “How.”

For at least the past 16 years, but especially the last 8, our political leaders have framed policy debates on “Whether.” For at least part of the Clinton years, it was “Whether” the Republicans really cared about the poor. For all of the Bush years, it’s been about:

  • Whether you love this country.
  • Whether you think terrorism is a threat to this country.
  • Whether you want the United States to lose its wars.

Next Tuesday, I believe, “Whether” will end. At least for awhile.  President Obama, based on his campaign performance and cabinet picks, will replace “Whether” with “How.”

“How” changes the debate from an internal, rhetoric civil war to a healthy debate on what to do about the country’s woes. “How” transforms the “Whethers” to:

  • How do we do right by this country we both love?
  • How do we manage the threat of terrorism?
  • How do we increase security both for the United States and for people around the world? How do we go about choosing the right tools for the right jobs.

I think “How” is more likely to build unity and constructive action. And when it can’t build unity, it will at least foster healthier debate.  For example, if Congressional Republicans block the Obama health plan, I’m pretty sure that instead of asking “Why don’t you care about the uninsured?”, he’ll say, “I know you share my goal of a healthy America where no family member dies or gets grievously sick due to lack of health care. What plan do you have to get to that goal? What evidence can you cite for it?” And if it’s a good plan, President Obama will try to sell it to Democrats. And if it isn’t, in the view of a majority in Congress, then the proponents will have been listened to without being demonized.

Now it’s possible that I’m wrong. That Obama will simply exchange Bush’s set of “Whethers” for a Democratic Party themed set. If that happens, you’ll have my promise that I’ll be vocal in my dissent. I hope you’ll join me. But for now, I’ve got hope that we may start detoxifying our political discourse and it cannot come a moment too soon.

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3 Responses

  1. I agree. It seems likely that Obama’s approach, rather than the emotional one we’ve been subject to for so long (be afraid! be smug!) will switch to a practical, results-and-means approach. I think there’s evidence of this already in his transition team’s work.

  2. Hi Deirdre, Thanks for stopping by. I like reading about what’s going on in Esther.

    I agree about the transition team’s working seeming inclusive. Have you seen the Citizen’s Briefing Book concept yet? Check out http://citizensbriefingbook.change.gov/.

    I’m really hoping that 1) such efforts to get citizen input will continue and that 2) a broad range of Americans will sign up to provide input. One of the other things I see Obama doing is acting like the President of the whole nation, not just his faction. To do that, he’ll need to find common ground (without conceding fundamentals) with people we both disagree with.

    Any inauguration watching parties going on up there?

  3. Good ol’ Esther. No, don’t know if there will be any inauguration parties up here, probably at the Loon (local pub) if so. And yep, put a link to the briefing book on my blog. Haven’t commented on it yet, though.

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