Can we have a little fun?
The news has been filled with one tough story after another for months. Washington has been focused on gun safety, the political jockeying over the tragedy in Benghazi, the IRS controversy and secret electronic surveillance programs. Political gridlock is the bitter icing on this sourpatch cake making it no surprise that confidence in Congress is down to 10 percent in a recent Gallup poll and a CNN poll shows President Obama's approval rating has dropped overall and by 17 points with young people in the last month.
After six months like this, we could all use a shot of political Red Bull with a lollipop chaser.
If there is anything that ties President's Obama's policies together it is his belief that more Americans should participate in the opportunities our nation offers. That thread runs through his efforts to expand health care, improve education via Race-to-the-Top and pass immigration reform. Why not go further with that philosophy and give the American people something to root for?
The president is traveling across Europe this week with his usual retinue of aides and advisers, media and security. When he heads to Africa later this month he should take a few corporate CEOs along to pursue opportunities to sell American goods and services, but since "small businesses are the engine of job growth," the White House should take a few small-and medium-sized business owners to go as well. For fun, they should make picking those businesses a national competition. Americans can nominate their favorites; businesses can wage online campaigns; and everyone can vote for their favorite companies. All of this human interest would be like catnip for local and cable news. Everybody could join in the fun.
Here's how it would work:
First, each state's governor and two senators select one company to represent their state. Then President Obama would appoint a panel of judges to choose 20 diverse companies with compelling stories that they think would benefit from the trip. No, not Adam Levine, Heidi Klum or Randy Jackson, but Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, chair of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, Missouri GOP Rep. Sam Graves, chair of the House Small Business Committee, Xerox CEO Ursula Burns and GE CEO Jeffery Immelt both members of the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, which Immelt chairs. The 20 companies they choose would fill out slots in a bracket like the NCAA tournament with four companies from each of five regions of the country (Northeast, South, Midwest, Mountain West and West Coast).
This is where it gets fun.
The American people would have 48 hours to review the 20 businesses and vote online for the ones they like. The top finisher in each of the five regions would travel with the president.
These small and medium-sized businesses would be able to spend time with corporate hot shots, meet potential business partners abroad and maybe give some insights to U.S. government officials about what is really going on in the economy. For extra cool points the White House should have cinematographers follow them around and upload video from meetings, interactions with government officials and even a few shopping trips. Make it a reality TV show!
This might seem silly but there is an important point here. According to University of California, Berkeley research, "the top 10 percent of wage earners took 46.5 percent of all income in 2011" (not including investment gains) and "median household income, which was $50,054 in 2011, is about 9 percent lower than it was in 1999, after accounting for inflation." In addition most high performing, low-income students don't get recruited or even apply to America's top colleges even though they could probably get scholarships to attend. Too many people in our country are being left out of the advantages the wealthy enjoy. We need to open up more opportunities to more Americans and this is just one fun way to stack the deck in favor of the people on Main Street.
Americans love the dysfunctional competition seen on reality TV, but a national contest that flips that formula on its head to feature both parties working together for even a small solution might help lift the national funk about our political process. Besides, wouldn't it be fun to watch everyday people explore the rarified air of a presidential delegation with all of the flag waving, military reviews and fancy dinners? Who knows, these job creators might even come up with a few ways to create more jobs.