A Time to Think Big

The country faces grave challenges. So why do Jeb Bush and Barack Obama spend so much time on small-bore maneuvers?

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    Another guy who seems trapped in the thicket of tactics is Barack Obama. He played small from the start by suggesting the brain-dead across-the-board $85 billion budget cut--a.k.a. the sequester--that has now been visited upon us. It was a tactic to nudge the Republicans away from their desire to have the country go bankrupt, by refusing to raise the debt ceiling, in the summer of 2011. Another phony crisis: even as Republican-induced "bankruptcy" loomed, foreign buyers were feverishly snapping up U.S. bonds--we're the safest investment on earth, despite our nitwit politics. The sequester has finally induced the President to try an intelligent path forward: he's now soliciting the support of the Senate Republican Sanity Caucus--those who would favor getting us out of this mess through a deficit deal that includes revenue increases and long-term entitlement reforms. But why wasn't he doing it months ago?

    I am, currently, mystified by Obama. He's won his second term. He's liberated. He can play golf with Tiger Woods. But where's the bold policy equivalent of a round with Tiger? His aides say he has to focus on the issues of the moment--sequester, immigration reform, gun control. Of course he does. But there is also a need to start the conversation about the next big thing.

    The issue that Jeb Bush raised--the decline of social mobility--has the potential to open some crucial areas of discussion: How do we create middle-class jobs if our smartest young people flock toward casino gambling on Wall Street rather than inventing new products and building new companies? How do we really reform sclerotic, inefficient education, health care and regulatory systems? Intelligent politicians like Obama and Bush think about this stuff all the time. It would be nice if they could clear out the tactical rubbish and find a way to talk about it.

    TO READ JOE'S BLOG POSTS, GO TO time.com/swampland

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