This on-line journal is titled “Accountability Matters,” and we note (above) that “accountability really does matter” to all of us. So, too “Politics Matters,” says CNN senior commentator and well-known author David Gergen. We had the pleasure of sitting in on a briefing by the well-known pundit as he shared his thoughts at the Rutgers’ University Eagleton Institute of Politics (headed by our host, the able Ruth Mandel).
David Gergen began by stating that he – a former advisor to four presidents – can’t remember a time when there were more challenges awaiting a new President of the United States on the January 20th (after the November elections and swearing in ceremonies). And, while the campaign rhetoric at times has featured candidates trumpeting about who was better prepared for “day one,” it will be the somber realities faced on Day Two [by the new president] that are so complex and challenging. No president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt in spring 1933 has faced such enormous challenges coming into the highest office in the land.
This is a strategic inflection point for our nation, notes Mr. Gergen, and we as a People have reached a point on many issues that – if we continue on the present course – could mean we will continue to “go down” as a nation. Nations do rise and fall, said Mr. Gergen. Think of Rome and the Fall of the Empire. More often than not it is an internal failure – the collapse of the empires of Rome, Greece, England and Spain come to mind.
The next president will have to clean up the mess left behind by recent presidents and the Congress — and then address serious issues. Access to and cost of healthcare. A faltering economy. The complex challenges within “climate change,” The many challenges of a globalizing economy and free trade. The war in Iraq. How we leave Iraq. The future of democracy in Iraq. The overall instability of the Middle East region. The rise of other nations – India, China. Iran, a long burning fuse – especially if the Iranians get nuclear weapons. The condition of our military after a prolonged conflict, now longer than the US involvement in World War Two.
What do we do about…the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, the Kurds and Turkey, Israel and Palestine, Pakistan, Pakistan and India, and more. The War on Terror. Keeping America safe. The Bush Tax Cuts — Tax Reform. The $400 billion federal deficit. Not to mention trillions’ of dollars in deficits accrued over the years — $50 trillion perhaps?
Social security – Year Three, he cautioned, of the next presidency will see the first flood of Baby Boomers turning 65 (those born in 1946 – from 201l they will number 4 million per year hitting age 65, for 18 years!) Medicare – already in worse shape than Social Security (with its surpluses).
On climate change, Mr. Gergen believes that related events are moving faster now, and damage to our environment is certain. We don’t know what the effects will be, he posited, but we are seeing polar caps melting and more violent storms occurring, and so the question for the next president is: What can we do? And, will we be able to act fast enough? Will we listen / learn and then act?
And what of the two leading candidates now…are they up to these challenges? Setting the above in place first, David Gergen moved on to Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain.
Barack Obama, he said, was rising up from the myth – he touches the soul at his rallies, something along the lines of President John F. Kennedy and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his speechmaking. He has real charisma, observes Mr. Gergen. (He noted that first daughter Caroline Kennedy and other members of the family are enthusiastic supporters of candidate Obama.) His candidacy could shape the events of political season 2008 to be as important in history as those of 1968, a year very much in focus this year. The press loves a campaigner like Senator Obama – the coverage makes this obvious.
On Senator John McCain: He is a true hero, said Mr. Gergen, an American we can all be proud of – he is “authentic,” there is lots to like here, and he can often be bipartisan to get things done. He reminded the audience that Senator McCain walked over to Senator Ted Kennedy to demonstrate his bipartisanship to the nation on key legislation. David Gergen said “I am a big fan of Senator McCain.”
And so – as one of these two candidates is presumed to be en route to the January 2009 “Day One” in the Oval Office – what can we expect?
It is not going to be so much as who wins in November, said David Gergen, as much as it is how we make this election work for America. Special interests must make real compromises. We must get important jobs done. We need every citizen involved and engaged. The bills for postponed issues and solutions are coming due – and must be paid. The outcome after Day Two would be bad for many of us if we cripple the new president coming in. We need his judgment, his wisdom, his ability to reach out and build bridges – and coalitions.
Corporate America, Mr. Gergen observed, is exhibiting “good corporate social responsibility now,” especially on such issues as the challenges of climate change.
Let us hope, he concluded, that the new president can lead from within, that he can master himself to serve others. That he knows who he is, and what he is, and can control his dark side impulses. That he will make us proud to be Americans, and America a proud nation that continues to lead the world.
We have come a long way as a people, he said, and we our actions should as a nation should be those that continue our progress. And then he repeated – the 2008 elections are taking place in a charged political environmental very similar to those of the historic year of 1968. If the Democrats win, they could well change “identify politics” for a generation.
We came away impressed that David Gergen was far more than a familiar face on CNN (where he is a senior commentator), and that he had the gravitas required to be a presidential advisor (as he has been since the early days of the Richard Nixon Administration). I hope the next president pulls him into the White House for his sage advice – he really knows and understands the critical issues we face as a People and a nation. Especially those issues and concerns that go far beyond the superficiality of so many pundits and blowhards holding forth on the airwaves these days…