This is the time of year when we are supposed to reflect on the past 12 months and aspire to do better for the next 12. I am a believer in New Year's resolutions, even if we usually fall short of our lofty goals. In that spirit of personal improvement, here are 2014 resolutions for America's political class:
For President Obama: Lead us.
Literally. Take the nation to a place that it would otherwise not go, or at least try. Otherwise, what's the point? The essence of leadership is getting people to do things that are beneficial in the long run, but unpleasant or even painful in the short run. Military leaders encourage the heroism and sacrifice that ultimately win wars. Business leaders close plants and fire workers to make their firms more viable and prosperous in the long run.
Politics is no different. Start telling us more of what we need to hear, and less of what we want to hear. As with all good resolutions, you can start in January. Use your State of the Union address to clearly articulate why the U.S. needs to overhaul its entitlement programs and then offer at least the parameters of a plan for doing so. Your most ardent supporters from the left keep telling me that you've already done this, or that such a gesture would be pointless because the Republicans will never compromise.
Nonsense. You have never made a compelling and specific case for entitlement reform. And how the Republicans respond is on them. You are the president of the United States. You have an obligation to address our most serious challenges in an honest and compelling way, particularly in your second term. If you don't, who will?
For the Republicans: Be a more effective and intellectually honest opposition party.
There is nothing wrong with your conservative principles: small government, fiscal responsibility, respect for markets and so on. But how have you advanced those principles in the last six years? You do not control the government. You will not control the government after the midterm elections (unless both Obama and Biden resign). And given your poll numbers of late, you will not control the government after the 2016 elections.
So stop trying to make the Democrats look bad, and start trying to accomplish things that make you look good. Isn't the political martyr routine getting old? Let's make 2014 a year for getting things done that are feasible and consistent with the conservative agenda: corporate tax reform, a responsible long-term budget deal, education reforms that promote competition, pro-business immigration reform.
Wouldn't that be a good year?
For the Aspiring 2016 Presidential Candidates: Do not say anything now that will make it harder for you to govern later.
Yes, we all know that campaigns are about vague promises and maddening generalities. And yes, we know that voters don't like to hear bad news. Still, the point of this whole campaign endeavor is not to become president. That is a means to an end. The point is to do good things as president. So don't close that door before you even move into the White House.
The best presidential campaign is one that paints the most compelling vision of how the candidate will govern while saying the fewest things that constrain his or her options should he or she arrive in the Oval Office.
Think about health care. President Obama's travails with the Affordable Care Act arguably began during the 2008 campaign. Democrats will claim otherwise, but the fact is that Barack Obama never sold the American public on the things that really had to happen to improve American health care. (The plan he offered as a candidate promised no personal mandate.)
The 2008 election was a mandate for "hope and change," not for Obamacare. Yes, President Obama got the votes he needed in Congress to pass the Affordable Care Act, but he never earned the deep and durable support of the public on this issue.
So remember as you campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire: If you promise chocolate cake as a candidate, you will have trouble delivering broccoli as president. And broccoli is almost always what we need.
For the American voters: Do something to improve the American political situation.
I've just spent nearly three weeks in India, where corruption is a chronic complaint. It is a cancer on the system, making every transaction more cumbersome and expensive. Of course, the same was true when I was here in 2005 and in 1989.
The difference this time is that a new political party has emerged with an agenda built explicitly around fighting corruption, the Aam Aadmi Party, or Common Man's Party. In the recent Delhi state elections, it shocked the political establishment by winning nearly half the seats in the state assembly. The effect has been electric. For the first time in decades, there is a sense that the political class is vulnerable and that ordinary voters can force change.
What did you do in 2013 to improve America's governance? How about doing more than that in 2014?