In Year three, the first wave of baby boomers will hit 65, demanding an overhaul of Social Security and Medicare, which face huge financial shortfalls. In Year four, the Kyoto agreement on climate change expires. Most nations ratified the protocol but the US never did. Its end underscores the need for a comprehensive plan to secure our energy supplies while also reducing our huge carbon emissions. And this is just the beginning here at home. The challenges overseas appear even more immense and complex.
Fascinating as it now is to follow the horse race between Barack Obama and John McCain, we now need something deeper from both of them: a better understanding their priorities and values, their visions and strategies for realizing them, their approaches to building teams and coalitions, and a more concrete sense of how they will govern. What do they hope to accomplish in their first 100 days? Their first term? And what, please, will their budget look like?
A major step forward, we have concluded from a recent conference at Harvard's Kennedy School, would be a media-based "job interview" of each of the candidates – one focused squarely on leadership. That would help voters move beyond identifying where Senators McCain and Obama stand to a better understanding of who they are and how well they would lead.
In 1960, many voters worried that John F. Kennedy was too young and inexperienced to be an effective leader. It turned out that inexperience did prompt a raft of mistakes early on, but he learned quickly and was magnificent when a crisis came over Soviet missiles in Cuba. Sixteen years later, many voters swooned over Jimmy Carter, but he turned out to be better suited for sainthood than for political leadership. Which model better fits Obama? Do we know? we know?