Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Change or No Change?

A couple of interesting developments to note for the next iteration of the BAUI.

First, Barack Obama's interview with Al Arabiya TV is a huge deal, and offers (or threatens, depending on your point of view) a hug change in the direction of American policy toward the Middle East. For Obama to say...

But if you look at the track record, as you say, America was not born as a colonial power, and that the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, there's no reason why we can't restore that. And that I think is going to be an important task.

...is to signal a huge change in and of itself. After all, the Bush administration had routinely scorned the previous decades of America ME policy preceding its own tenure, as examples of what not to do. And now Obama is calling the period dominated by Henry Kissinger, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, in effect, the good old days.

Of course, just because the President says it, doesn't mean that it, whatever "it" is, always gets filtered down through the bureaucracy. As Harry Truman observed about presidential power to historian Richard Neustadt, Dwight Eisenhower would find it tough in the White House:

He'll say, "Do this! Do that!" And nothing will happen. Poor Ike--it won't be a bit like the Army. He'll find it very frustrating.

Eisenhower, of course, proved to be an effective president, although he was hardly a game-changer, especially on the domestic front, where he was content to keep on keeping on with the New Deal and even Truman's Fair Deal.

But that excursion into presidential power aside, the Business As Usual Index focuses on domestic and economic issues, especially as they relate to the way that government works.

And so, second, and more pertinent to the BAUI, we should all be very curious to see what sort of reception Phil Longman, my colleague at the New America Foundation, gets for this visionary infrastructure proposal, "steel wheels," which he will discussing in testimony on Capitol Hill tomorrow.

Phil's proposal--in a nutshell, putting trucks on trains--would save energy, reduce pollution, and create jobs. It's exactly the sort of new idea that any government official should be looking for (even if, obviously, it is based on old ideas, ideas that are already working elsewhere in the world; the picture above is from Switzerland).

Are the Democrats up for it? Are the Republicans? If they are, that will be real change. Stand by.

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