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William Galston’s Advice to Obama: Articulate American Exceptionalism

4:19 PM, Jan 14, 2011 • By THOMAS O'BAN
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William Galston, senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institute, writer for the New Republic, and founding board member of the recently launched No Labels project, predicts, “the key to Democratic Party success over the next two years will be its strategic response to Obama.”

William Galston’s Advice to Obama: Articulate American Exceptionalism

Galston has been prolific of late in prescribing Obama’s policy in the coming year. With an eye toward the president’s upcoming State of the Union address—according to Galston it “may well be the most important speech of Obama’s presidency thus far”—the former presidential advisor says the president must “seize the high ground of American politics by announcing an agenda to which both parties can subscribe, and convince Americans he is the president he claimed to be as a candidate.”

Galston’s prescription for Obama is a comprehensive agenda built on the dual foundation of long-term fiscal stability and economic growth. To make this agenda most effective, however, Galston urges the president to articulate a rare sentiment among his progressive political allies: American exceptionalism. Gallup reported as recently as December 22 that 80 percent of Americans believe “the U.S. has a unique character which makes it the greatest country in the world.” Only 58 percent think that President Obama shares their belief.

“Democrats haven’t done a good job of articulating exceptionalism,” admits Galston, and this includes the president. “The president must turn American exceptionalism and nationalism to his own ends.” During a NATO press conference in April of 2009, Obama said: “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks in Greek exceptionalism.” Obama has said little more on the subject since, and Galston believes articulating the novelty of America will become a political necessity for the president, who must “convince Americans he’s the president he claimed to be as a candidate”—a post-partisan, a pragmatic problem-solver.

Galston also wrote a point-by-point policy prescription for the president for the New Republic on December 17, just after the passage of the tax deal. “Because of the tax deal, Congress no longer needs to worry about passing additional economic stimulus to boost job creation,” he argued. “There is now zero excuse for legislators to ignore the short-term budget problem and put off measures that would repair America’s economic competitiveness.” Obama will have ample opportunity to push these necessary measures, Galston claims, “because many of the necessary policies have at least some bipartisan support.”

Tax reform could be a centerpiece as the president looks at long term budget stabilization, which should also include aggressive probing into Social Security and Medicare and a focused trimming of discretionary spending through multi-year caps or freezes. As for an equally important long-term economic growth strategy, Galston suggests a National Infrastructure Bank, which Obama brought up in his presidential campaign. “The president should make it the centerpiece of his agenda,” writes Galston, and free trade, immigration reform, and education reform should surround that centerpiece.

If, starting with his upcoming State of the Union address, Obama can transcend the agendas of both parties, articulating “a comprehensive program of fiscal stabilization and economic growth, integrated into a narrative of American success in the 21st century,” then Galston believes he may very well be reelected.

Thomas O’Ban is an intern at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

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