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I hope Barack Obama is a closet radical. Not radical left or right, just a radical, because this is a moment for radical departures from business as usual.
We can't thrive as a country any longer by coasting on our reputation, by postponing solutions to every big problem that might involve some pain, and by telling ourselves that dramatic new initiativeslike a gasoline tax, national health care, or banking reformare too hard.
Opportunities for bold initiatives and truly new beginnings are rare in our systemin part because of the sheer inertia and stalemate designed into our Constitution, with its deliberate separation of powers, and in part because of the way lobbying money, a 24-hour news cycle, and a permanent presidential campaign all conspire against big changes.
"In times of national crisis, Americans look to government to solve fundamental problems that affect them directly," says Michael J. Sandel of Harvard University.
"These are the times when Presidents can do big things," says Sandel. "These moments are rare. But they offer the occasion for the kind of leadership that can recast the political landscape, and redefine the terms of political argument for a generation."
In the 1930s, the Great Depression enabled Franklin D. Roosevelt to launch the New Deal and redefine the role of the federal government. In the 1960s, the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the civil rights movement enabled Lyndon Johnson to enact his Great Society agenda, including Medicare, the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act.
That is why this voter is hoping Obama will swing for the fences. While a crisis is a terrible thing to waste, so too is a great politician with a natural gift for oratory, a rare knack for bringing people together, and a nationparticularly its young peopleready to be summoned and to serve.
While it is impossible to exaggerate what a radical departure it is from our past that we have elected a black President, it is equally impossible to exaggerate how much our future depends on a radical departure from our present.
As Obama himself declared in his inaugural address: "Our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests, and putting off unpleasant decisionsthat time has surely passed."
We need to get back to work on our country and our planet in wholly new ways. The hour is late, the project couldn't be harder, the stakes couldn't be higher, the payoff couldn't be greater.