Obama 2.0

Today’s guest post is by Bill Becker, the Executive Director of the Presidential Climate Action Project.

The second year of the Obama Era is young, but we may be seeing the emergence of Obama 2.0 – a president willing to do battle against the dark forces of stasis and negativity. Let’s hope so.

Obama 1.0 didn’t want to get ahead of Congress. Obama 2.0 appears ready to go head-to-head with Democrats who have the numbers to lead but lack the discipline, and Republicans whose only big idea is to make Democrats fail – a job that has turned out to be pretty easy so far.

Now the President seems open to strategy-change and he’s being flooded with fresh advice. In the Feb. 8 issue of TIME, for example, columnist Mark Halperin suggests that Obama “borrow from the playbook of Ronald Reagan” by becoming bigger than life, standing for a few big things and striking themes with which no self-respecting American patriot – Republican, Democrat or Tea Person — can disagree.

Halperin is correct. Obama 1.0 worked at playing the Washington game; Obama 2.0 must prove he can change the game, as he promised in the campaign. He should lead us in a tectonic shift from the politics of fear to the politics of hope.

The Right claims we are losing the America we love. The Left tells us we are teetering on the brink of environmental collapse. Both tell us we should be very afraid. A little fear is good.  It teaches us, metaphorically speaking, not to touch the hot pot on the stove. But fear without hope leads to the kind of persistent polarity, political paralysis and apocalypse fatigue that seems to be infecting the American spirit like a pandemic.

As evangelists of hope like to point out, Martin Luther King told us about a dream, not a nightmare. When President Reagan accepted the Republican Party’s nomination for president, he talked of a “shining city on a hill”, not a collapsed civilization. Just before taking office in 1961, back in the day when masculine pronouns were still politically correct, John Kennedy invoked the same image, saying:

Today, the eyes of all people are truly upon us – and our governments, in every branch, at every level, national, state and local, must be as a city upon a hill – constructed and inhabited by men aware of their great trust and their great responsibilities.

If I were advising President Obama on the big populist ideas that should be the themes for his second year in office, I would recommend he begin a new national conversation about the future – not just the future we must avoid, but also the future we must build. He talks often about the “new energy economy”. It’s the right goal, but TWTS — Too Wonkish To Sizzle in the popular imagination.  Instead, on his next visit to the bully pulpit, Obama 2.0 might say:

We challenge the world’s biggest economies to a “Race to the Top”. By 2020,  the United States will be the most resource efficient, innovative, self-sufficient and environmentally responsible economy on the planet.

Again, the President  has come close, without quite firing the starting pistol.  In his State of the Union address, he said:

There’s no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains, or the new factories that manufacture clean energy products”¦China is not waiting to revamp its economy. Germany is not waiting. India is not waiting”¦They’re making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs. Well, I do not accept second place for the United States of America.

Since China is already in full sprint, let’s make the race official. Let’s throw down the challenge and identify the finish line.  Just by participating, we will become a more secure and genuinely prosperous nation. We all know the benefits of weaning ourselves from carbon-intensive fuels – particularly imported oil: We’ll plug some of the biggest leaks in our economy, clean the air,  free ourselves from other nations that don’t have our best interests at heart, eliminate the temptation to meddle in parts of the world where we are not welcome, undermine Osama Bin Laden’s influence by taking away some of his best recruiting arguments, and eliminate the need to send our sons and daughters to kill and be killed in oil wars.

In the future we want, Obama 2.0 might say, we’ll shift the epicenters of U.S. energy production from places like the Middle East, Nigeria and Venezuela to places like North Dakota, Oklahoma and Texas.  We’ll wildcat the sun. Our farms and rural communities will become prosperous and robust again  as they earn new income by harvesting wind, sunlight and sustainable energy crops; and by providing carbon sequestration services through advanced soil and forest management.

The second big idea for Obama 2.0 involves national security.  He should build on the theme advanced by some military experts that the United States must be as skilled at nation building as it is at war-fighting. The President might say:

It is time to redefine national defense to meet the new realities of the 21st Century.  We must be prepared not only to fight wars, but also to prevent them by redoubling our efforts to help developing nations build prosperity and stability where there now is poverty, instability and despair.  Among the new realities of national security is the growing threat to the environmental systems that support life in some of the world’s most volatile regions.  We have come to a time when solar cells and wind turbines are as important to world security as guns and tanks. We must beat some of our swords into solar collectors. Investments in clean energy are the new defense spending.

He should continue:

It has never been more obvious that we are one world.  The global economic crisis, the global flu pandemic, the global food crisis and the fact that every person’s pollution now threatens the health and welfare of everyone else —  these are incontrovertible physical evidence that all people of all nations are connected.  So, we recommit the United States to the international goal of ending extreme poverty with sustainable technologies and progress.  We will share our knowledge and resources to help the world’s less developed nations achieve decent, safe and sanitary lives for their people.  We will show through deeds as well as words what we know in our hearts to be true: No one is secure until all people are secure; no one can prosper while so many in our country and around the world are poor; and our future depends on building a global ecological economy in which we sustain the natural systems that sustain us.

Finally, Obama 2.0 might reemphasize that to achieve these big goals, all Americans must become nation-builders in their communities. Every American should commit to doing three things every day to “green” our lives, at home and work. He can explain it this way:

We will be the architects of our future, or its victims. From this moment forward, we choose to be its architects.  When the rest of the world looks upon our city on the hill, it will see  generosity rather than greed, hope rather than despair, sustainable prosperity rather than economic collapse.  Creating that proverbial city is America’s mission for the next decade.

To help the American people get involved,  the President should engage organizations and individuals across America who already are creating images of the future, often out of the spotlight – for example, the America 2050 project of the Regional Plan Association and the Future We Want project at Natural Capitalism Solutions.

He  should convene America’s leading experts in energy, finance, business, labor and governance, along with the Departments of Energy, Interior, Agriculture and Commerce and the EPA, to propose a 10-year plan to win the race to the top – the goals, timetables, policies and voluntary actions we’ll need from government and the private sector nationwide. Among other things, the plan will lay out how the industries and workers that built America over the last two centuries – from steelworkers and automakers to the oil, gas and coal industries — will make the transition with the rest of us and play an essential role in building the new energy economy.

So far, as Joe Romm has put it, we have been missing a “Pearl Harbor moment” to unify and mobilize us. We’ve been missing a Sputnik moment like the one that inspired us to win the space race. But in reality, similar moments are upon us again, unfolding so gradually that some of us have failed to see them while others deny their urgency.   The insidious, destabilizing effect of climate change and carbon energy is our Pearl Harbor moment. China’s drive to overtake the United States as the global technology leader is our Sputnik moment. How we respond will say everything about whether America is capable of getting its mojo working again.

It won’t be easy to start, let alone sustain, a national zeitgeist of hope. Not everyone will lay down his placard or rise from his barcalounger. Some of our most visible personalities and institutions – ranging from the traditional news media to the Querulous Class on television, radio and in the blogosphere – make their livings in the negativity business.  They appeal to an audience more entertained by trash talk than happy talk and to news media that thrive on conflict.  When there’s not enough conflict, the news media invent it or give air time to those who do – for example, the made-for-television Tea Party.  This is a time when a measurable audience share considers Glenn Beck and cage fighting to be good television.

Nevertheless, I believe we can create a parade that most Americans will want to join and most politicians will want to lead.  We have an historic challenge, trans-partisan in nature, global in scope, epochal in importance, requiring equal measures of intelligence and morality.  Like other presidents in times of cusp and crisis, Obama 2.0 may be able to rally us out of peevishness and help us unify around a transcendent common purpose.  If he does not, or if we don’t respond, we are very likely to default to the future we fear.

10 Responses to Obama 2.0

  1. Spread the truth says:

    He’s got the bully pulpit, should use it…and is!

  2. Jeff Huggins says:

    We actually need Obama 3.0. And, 3.0 must be genuine, brave, totally honest, and inspiring all at the same time.

    3.0 must lead.

    Dwelling on problems only, and on “no”, without hope, as many politicians do, won’t do.

    Nor will offering sugar-sprinkled hope without facts.

    Nor will facts alone do, without solutions and vision and courage.

    The only other thing I’d say is about the “we’re in a race” thing. “Race to the top”, and all that.

    Although there are many things that we should aspire to do very well, for a number of very genuine and vital reasons, this thinking that we can only do something if we’re “in a race” is a bit demeaning and sounds tiresome. How about being inspired by genuine human reasons, for once? People don’t get up in the morning and say, “boy I can’t wait for the race that I need to win otherwise I’ll be obsolete and dead!”

    People want meaning, fulfillment, happiness, belonging, competence and excellence, self-expression, genuine-ness, love, happiness, and so forth.

    It’s a hollow thing to do something mainly because you’re “in a race” to beat someone else.

    The real question is whether we (the entire human race) can manage to be genuinely wise — homo sapiens — and, in effect, win the race with our own selves. What is the real “finish” line if China and the U.S. and India and Europe and Japan and etc. always and habitually need to be in a big “race” with each other? What is the finish line? To be in a continuous race — a spiraling one — to what ends?

    The question is whether we can find ways to achieve health, meaning, happiness, sustainability, justice, and so forth — sustainably — in concert with each other — and we should begin to get that into our heads. If we just embark on the next decade or two in order to win a race with China or whoever, that will be adopting the wrong paradigm, I think. We DO need to get off our butts and solve our problems, of course, but let’s hope that Obama 3.0 can help inspire us to do that wisely, for good reasons, for meaningful reasons, for sane reasons, and for reasons that will themselves be sustainable. Have you ever heard of anyone embarking on a “race” that itself (the race) was sustainable and everlasting? The longest race I’m aware of is a marathon, I suppose, and people look pretty darn tired at the end of those, if you ask me.

    In large part, I agree with much of what is said in the post, but I’m not sure that the reasoning is as inspiring as it might be. I hope Obama 3.0 comes up with something even better.

    Be Well,


  3. The Wonderer says:

    Obama 2.0 can only succeed if the base supports him and demands change without tearing him down. Instead what little is left is helping the Democratic party implode, as usual. We need leadership from the base too, and right now, it’s only happening from his detractors.

  4. F White says:

    The zero in “Obama 2.0” is appropriately significant. Zero as in empty — empty rhetoric. Or so, I believe, would say Doctors Flowers and Paris who were arrested for their heartrending act of civil disobedience, for daring to take Obama at his word. Watch the doctors in this 9-min. clip at

  5. Jeff Huggins says:

    In response to The Wonderer (Comment 3):

    I agree with you. But, how to do it?

    It seems to me that many pundit voices are loud, on the political/news programs, but that not much is happening in concrete ways in visible America — i.e., on campuses, in the towns, in the streets, and so forth.

    Where is the visible, concrete, en masse support that people should be giving to Obama — to encourage him and require him (at the same time) to implement needed changes? Except on TV — where the pundits usually blabber at each other — the silence is deafening.

    I’m wondering too.



  6. espiritwater says:

    From Michael Moore video (“Must See video of Youth in Copenhagen” at

    During Roosevelt’s presidency, a woman came up to him and demanded: “Where’s the New Deal you promised? Where’s my social security?!” Roosevelt answered, “I’m not going to give you anything; you have to make me do it. I have all these bankers against me, all these other people at my back. This isn’t going to happen unless you, the people make me do it!”

    All great movments work like this. You have to stake out the position you want. You have to ask for what you want. But you don’t start out with a compromise… If they felt the heat, they would respond accordingly. Just because they’re democrats it doesn’t mean it will happen…I think he wants us…he needs to be pushed. I think he wants to be pushed because he can’t do this by himself.

    I would add, and we need to be exact in our demand. Like women demanding the right to vote, or black people demanding civil rights, or India demanding her freedom. We need to define exactly what it is we want and demand it.

    In my opinion, the reason we don’t have what we want is because we need an exact demand. The climate change issue is so broad. It’s difficult to focus on exactly what we want. But I think we need to do so– like a fine pointed lazer beam, we need to define exactly what we want and then demand it. Like women’s demand to vote, like India’s demand for freedom, like black’s demand for equal rights. We need to define what we want as climate change activists.

  7. espiritwater says:

    …oops! Forgot to errase the last paragraph!

  8. Doug Bostrom says:

    espiritwater says: February 2, 2010 at 11:09 am

    “During Roosevelt’s presidency, a woman came up to him and demanded: “Where’s the New Deal you promised? Where’s my social security?!” Roosevelt answered, “I’m not going to give you anything; you have to make me do it. I have all these bankers against me, all these other people at my back. This isn’t going to happen unless you, the people make me do it!””

    That’s great, I’d never heard it.

    Fixing our country is not a channel we’ll tune in and view.

  9. fj2 says:

    Eco-efficiency can be both ecological and economic efficiency and a very effective way to proceed using natural systems to reduce the cost of living and increase the quality of life since natural services are provided free.

  10. Ruth Brandt says:

    espiritwater says:
    February 2, 2010 at 11:09 am

    From Michael Moore video (”Must See video of Youth in Copenhagen” at

    During Roosevelt’s presidency, a woman came up to him and demanded: “Where’s the New Deal you promised? Where’s my social security?!” Roosevelt answered, “I’m not going to give you anything; you have to make me do it. I have all these bankers against me, all these other people at my back. This isn’t going to happen unless you, the people make me do it!”

    It is a great story! But the video in the post you cite doesn’t mention it. Can you point me to where I can find it mentioned? (though it’s still a great story even if it isn’t true :) )