A veteran political observer I know is fond of quoting the aphorism, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”
It means, among other things, that sometimes only crisis can break through governing gridlock and make things happen. In today’s climate that feels truer than ever.
I argued after 9-11 that President Bush in that rare moment of global solidarity with the U.S. had a chance to reshape the geopolitical landscape. Terrorists in al-Qaeda and the Taliban needed to be destroyed. But so did the epidemics of poverty, disease and ignorance that were the breeding ground of those attackers. A generation of citizens would gladly have enlisted into such a battle backed by leadership and national resolve, and might have done great good.
That opportunity was squandered, like so much else, in the bombs over Baghdad.
Today we face another crisis too valuable to waste, and there will be opportunity for a newly reelected President Obama to make good on this one.
The crisis is climate change. It’s been upon for a long time, but now it comes to the fore in a way that could animate meaningful response. Upon the solid foundation of what we know beyond reasonable doubt about climate crisis, add layers of the Sandy superstorm disaster; the understanding that our national infrastructure is old and eroded in any case; and the certainty that our economy still needs invigoration.
A resolute second-term president with a majority in the U.S. Senate could perhaps turn these ingredients into a national crusade with winners on many fronts. Citizens, sickened by a multi-billion dollar mud bath of partisan campaigning, could be rallied by a persuasive president with an optimistic vision for the future as understandable as it was comprehensive. The Senate would need to use the nuclear option to eliminate the filibuster; fine, do so immediately. The House, perhaps at least mildly chastened by election results, would be easier to engage.
I’m too old for simple naiveté. But I’ve also read enough history to know societies with great leaders and extraordinary circumstances can accomplish unimaginable feats. Israel’s founder and first prime minister David Ben-Gurion said of his country, “in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.” In this day, no less than his, we need them.