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Mr. President, Bring Back the Hope

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Over the past few days I've heard many political commentators say that midterm elections are going sour for Democrats because President Obama has failed to offer a long-term vision for the direction of this country.

As Steven Pearlstein said today in the Washington Post, "What voters needed was a broader vision of where the country needed to go and how we could get there, a credible story of how shared sacrifice today could lead to shared prosperity tomorrow. The inability of President Obama and Democratic leaders to articulate such a vision and tell that story now threatens their governing majority."

Has the language of hope disappeared from the Democrats' vocabulary? Has the President failed to offer his plan for America in 2020?

Let me point you to a speech President Obama gave in April of 2009 called the "New Foundation. " He described America's New Foundation as one

"[b]uilt upon five pillars that will grow our economy and make this new century another American century: new rules for Wall Street that will reward drive and innovation; new investments in education that will make our workforce more skilled and competitive; new investments in renewable energy and technology that will create new jobs and industries; new investments in health care that will cut costs for families and businesses; and new savings in our federal budget that will bring down the debt for future generations. That is the new foundation we must build. That must be our future—and my administration's policies are designed to achieve that future." (Read more)

Now as I stated in an earlier post, the President has delivered on some of these pillars (Wall Street Reform, Education Reform, and Health Care Reform). He has also acknowledged that we haven't reaped the long-term benefits of these policies.

So maybe it is not Obama's lack of vision or policy preferences, but the political approach. In a famous refrain on the campaign trail, Obama often said we had to "fundamentally change the status quo in Washington," and that "change doesn't come from Washington, it comes to Washington." The Obama campaign was so special precisely because people felt that the direction of the country was being determined in living rooms and kitchen tables across the nation. Once in office, town halls gave way to the closed halls of Congress and living room chairs gave way to existing committee chairs. The true "rock stars" of the campaign—Obama's vaunted army of young field organizers—have stood idle and direction-less while insiders like Max Bauccus, Bart Stupak, and Ben Nelson took the stage.

My sense is that all Americans, especially progressives, want President Obama to succeed. In fact, millions of unemployed, uninsured, and malnourished Americans are literally clinging to the hope that he does. Their frustration with the President is not with the pillars of his "New Foundation," but rather the ground under those pillars itself—a fundamentally broken political process.

I urge the President to begin rebuilding that foundation over the next two years. The current political climate of antagonism and animosity threatens to serve as quicksand for the pillars we've built, and for those critical ones yet to be erected. Republicans must also own responsibility for hindering a new political climate. If they fail to, I suspect they will find their recent political resurgence tenuous and short-lived.

Americans may disagree on what the pillars of progress are, but nearly everyone believes we need a new foundation for a new politics. Living room by living room, kitchen table by kitchen table, it's time to rebuild.

Reshma Saujani ran an unsuccessful campaign in the Democratic primary against Rep. Carolyn Maloney in New York's 14th district, which covers Manhattan and Western Queens. A community activist and a legal scholar, she is a graduate of the University of Illinois, received her Masters in Public Policy from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and her JD from Yale Law School.