An Open Letter to President Obama

September 10, 2009

Dear President Obama,

These fighting words culminated your speech on health care last night:

But that is not what the moment calls for.  That’s not what we came here to do.  W300px-Joint_blog_close_PS-0774e did not come to fear the future.  We came here to shape it.  I still believe we can act even when it’s hard.  (Applause.)  I still believe — I still believe that we can act when it’s hard.  I still believe we can replace acrimony with civility, and gridlock with progress.  I still believe we can do great things, and that here and now we will meet history’s test.
Because that’s who we are.  That is our calling.  That is our character.  Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

We did not come here to fear the future. We came here to shape it.

Strong words. Promising! But who exactly will shape the future? Just who are “we” in the lines above? In the opening sentences you uses “we” to refer to yourself – “That’s not what we came here [to Washington] to do.” But in the sentences that follow, your “we” includes all Americans, concluding with “Because that’s who we are. That is our calling. That is our character.”

Your inclusive “we” affirms your faith the American character and in America’s ability to shape the nation’s future as a people. Americans can “replace acrimony with civility,” you asserts, “and gridlock with progress.”

We entirely agree – but may we ask what you (or anyone in American journalism or government, for that matter) have done since you took office to give Americans the chance to do so?

By all accounts, last summer’s “debate” on health care was a shambles; it was uncivil and unproductive. And looking more broadlay at the state of American politics, the sad fact, as we see it, is that the nation’s journalists and elected leaders have used the term “national debate” for decades to describe public squabbles among entrenched interest groups on issues ranging from education to immigration to foreign policy that have left Americans voiceless.  The outcome? A polarized politics, a gridlocked government and an alienated citizenry.

In the terms you used last night, has this broken system of political discourse not kept America from realizing its call and has corrupted its character?

As we often say at this site, the obvious remedy for a dysfunctional system of discourse is a strictly non-partisan civic mechanism that restores our politics and government to functionality: a mediating media capable of making all citizens – and citizens and government – responsive and accountable to each other in defining and solving the problems, and maximizing the opportunities, that will shape America’s future.

For years America has had in place the interactive technologies needed to realize such a media.

So Mr. President, that’s our challenge:  support the creation of a market and voter driven civic media that gives all Americans an informed voice in the decisions that affect their lives at local, state and national levels.

Sincerely,

The Chicago Civic Media Team

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