Big Ideas

Who doesn’t want to be a visionary? Who doesn’t want to be known for big ideas – the sort that inspire a community, or better yet, a nation?

In today’s Sunday New York Times, an editorial by Thomas L. Friedman, “It’s Still Halftime in America,” speaks to the need for long-term vision in the context of politics, and in the context of our willingness to imagine – and then execute – a vision.

Mr. Friedman writes of the late Neil Armstrong, and a time when “America embarked on a great and inspiring journey.”

I remember watching those first steps on the moon on a small television screen, back in July of 1969. Armstrong’s passing sparks a bittersweet recollection of Camelot days-gone-by, and for some of us, a sense of sorrow at where we find ourselves today. Mr. Friedman quotes CEO of LRN, Dov Seidman:

… no one is trying to elevate us, by taking us all, as a nation, on some daring new journey.

Mr. Friedman then proposes a journey or two for our consideration:

… let’s commit to keeping everyone in school. Let’s commit that, within a decade, every American will have the tools for, and financial access to, some kind of postsecondary education… Because without some higher education that makes you “work ready” for one of today’s good jobs and a lifelong-learner for one of tomorrow’s, you’ll never secure a decent job or realize your full potential here on Earth.

Personally, I like the concept of big ideas and the blueprint for a future that extends beyond, as Mr. Friedman says, “a speech.”

What Journey Would You Dream for Our Country?

There was a comment on this Times editorial to the effect that every journey needn’t be poetic, at least, not on the grand scale of space exploration.

So how about envisioning a country in which every citizen can afford a health care professional when ill, or better yet for routine preventative care? Every citizen?

That’s a helluva vision.

How about a country in which we are committed to developing technologies to exploit our energy sources without destroying the environment?

That’s another helluva vision.

What about a country in which 1.6 million homeless children have a prayer of a permanent roof over their heads?

Any takers on that Big Idea?

Does anyone like the concept of a country where we don’t lose 30,000 people a year to firearm related deaths?*

Might I offer a point of comparison? That’s 15 times as many deaths per year as the total 2,000 American military casualties in Afghanistan since 2001.**

Care for another? 30,000 domestic firearm deaths per year is half the total loss of American military personnel in Vietnam, cited at 58,193 lives.***

Care for more visioning?

What about an educated populace, as Mr. Friedman suggests? How about a goal of zero poverty? Perhaps a little campaign financing reform while we’re at it? And no, I haven’t forgotten about the dwindling middle class and the millions who are unemployed or underemployed – not to mention those who don’t show up in the statistics because they work as contractors.

And the right to choose your life partner regardless of gender?

A nation in which a woman’s body is her own – a concept that ought to be a no-brainer, especially for the women?

Might we propose a country in which “love thy neighbor” doesn’t carry a lengthy exclusionary clause? Isn’t that poetic?

Vision, Planning, and Then What?

These sound like a few Big Ideas to me, personally. But big ideas are easy. Lofty speeches, likewise. We need to prioritize, develop the blueprints, the skills, the commitment, and invest the money to turn big ideas into a journey of execution that extends beyond partisanship.

And in the case of these visions, the journey is not the destination. The destination is everything.

In the journalistic litany of who, what, when, where, why, and how… that “how” is monumental. Perhaps national conventions are not the place for the “how” – not in any detail, anyway. But the “how” must be presented somewhere – and clearly. Something other than slogans and sound bites.

I don’t see any Big Ideas in the Republic Platform. I see short-sightedness, self-interest, special interest, and staggering intolerance. A journey, but one that takes us backwards.

Returning to Mr. Friedman’s opinion piece, he concludes by wishing this election offered a choice between

two exceptional journeys – with maps included.

I quite agree. But what if the Big Idea is really about getting your house in order?

Since we all seem to like the Big Business Model these days, let’s consider what makes Big Business successful. It’s a combination of short term and long term strategies. And yes, it’s the Big Idea, with the plan and resources to get it done. But before you get buy-in on the idea or the plan, you need to sell it – to the investors, and to the “workers” who will make it happen.

That’s us.

So next week is your turn, President Obama. Your top Big Ideas in the 2008 platform? The Stimulus Plan, Health Care, and ending the War in Iraq. You made strides on the first two and accomplished the third.

You’re still the better bet in my book, but it isn’t enough. We need you to stand up for the Big Ideas and sell them. Tangibly. Get us excited again. Be that leader.



**New York Times:

***National Archives:

© D. A. Wolf



  1. batticus says

    As a non-American, all I can say is the bold choice of electing Barack Obama as your president was very surprising and hopeful for the rest of the world. The beauty of your system of government is that you can re-elect him distinct from the party choices you make in the two other houses; good luck in your decisions in November!

  2. says

    I too, Ms. Wolf, have looked at the numbers and can’t help wonder if we worry about the right things. Micah Zenko is a Fellow in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of Between Threats and War: U.S. Discrete Military Operations in the Post-Cold War World. He pointed out in an article in The Atlantic that in 2011 seventeen private American citizens were killed in terrorist attacks while in 2010 twenty-one Americans were killed when a piece of furniture fell on them.

    I can go on to point out:
    * 571,000 died from cancer in 2011
    * approximately 18,000 die from AIDS each year
    * over thirty thousand die each year in traffic related deaths
    * 2007 saw nearly 35,000 suicides

    And let’s not forget that 82 die each from getting struck by lightning. (Stephen Colbert: And the #1 threat in America: terrorist furniture!)

    The Republicans are contributing to the general sense of fear and paranoia as well as putting forward a platform full of ideas completely out of touch with modern society. As Andy Borowitz so amusingly commented:

    “Welcome delegates to the 2012 Republican Convention! Remember to set your watches back 400 years.”

    Obama has a tough job. But let’s not forget that this is a tough situation. Nobody, not even God Almighty, is going to be able to pull a rabbit out of a hat. This does require big ideas and a long-term vision but unfortunately the public is a fickle bunch. They seem to rarely stay the course and are constantly asking, “Yeah, that’s great but what have you done for me lately?” It is that fickleness which always threatens any long-term political vision.

    The 2012 Republican Platform: Are ya scared yet?

  3. says

    I agree with Batticus. I thought electing Obama was a really proud moment for America in the eyes of the rest of the world. I’d love to see him re-elected.

    Just finished reading Charles Handy’s Hungry Spirit. He has interesting ideas that seem awfully applicable even though he wrote in 1997. He’s an economist but with a rather spiritual outlook. I can recommend it.

  4. Robert says

    The biggest idea that I can think of is to reconfigure our society in such a way as to allow everyone to contribute to the whole in accordance with their individual dreams, as opposed to limiting them according to their upbringing, connections and capital.

  5. Gwen says

    “I don’t see any Big Ideas in the Republic Platform. I see short-sightedness, self-interest, special interest, and staggering intolerance.”

    Very well said!

    Fear and intolerance and corporate self-interest have created a monster and it’s voice is louder every election cycle. How do we educate people to be able to filter out the propaganda when big business has a vested interested in using that fear to generate profits, and so many in power otherwise want to use that fear to remain in power?

    It’s a broken system we live in and I have no idea how to fix it. Big ideas? Can we do that? Can we implement them? What about little ones we can implement as individuals? Do they matter?

    Great – my post has more questions than suggestions!

    Here’s what I long for…

    Captain Jean-Luc Picard: The economics of the future is somewhat different. You see, money doesn’t exist in the 24th century.
    Lily Sloane: No money? You mean, you don’t get paid?
    Captain Jean-Luc Picard: We work to better ourselves.

    …that we as a human species find ways to work to better ourselves and our world. Same thing Robert is saying I think. How do we get there from here?

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Gwen, “More questions than suggestions” – not necessarily a bad thing! We need our questions. The more we ask, the more we will examine and possibly find solutions. If we don’t pose the questions, we’re sheep.

      And I’m a believer in the so-called small idea or individual action that can nonetheless create change. (Butterfly Effect, anyone?)

  6. BigLittleWolf says

    Delighted that you are all commenting and joining the discussion. Anything that touches on politics can be problematic (particularly as this isn’t specifically a political gathering spot), and I find it encouraging that you are willing to express your opinions.

    Robert, to your point – Last evening I was at a dinner party at which most of the attendees were in the 45 to 65 age range, best I could tell. I was energized by the dynamism, the curiosity, the intellectual power of the individual and collective experience of these individuals. Most are currently teachers, though their lives and interests had touched on the sciences, the humanities, and the trades.

    Several were “de facto” retired, though it was clear they still had enormous contributions they could make – knowledge to share. But how?

    We had an interesting discussion on the topic.

    I like your idea of the ability for all of us to contribute. Imagine of our skills and knowledge were transmitted and put to good use – all of our skills and knowledge?

    It is a big idea. Young, old, and everyone in between – able to pursue our interests and contribute.

  7. says

    I could just kiss you on the face for this post.

    How about a legislature that gets its information from citizens (including experts) rather than corporations? Then the companies using chemicals would have to wait to have them approved rather then getting a rubber stamp. Housing would be much more affordable because the real estate lobby would have to close up shop and stop ramming the idea of home ownership as an ultimate goal. Healthy food would be affordable and the crap on the 99 cent menu would be priced at its real cost to the environment, farmers, and workers. Health care would be between people and doctors, without a huge for-profit middleperson entity. School would be taught for students not for politicians.

    So. Money out of politics. At the election level and at the governance level. One Nation, Under Our Watchful Eyes Because We’re an Open Minded, Critical Thinking, Educated Electorate, with Liberty and Justice for All. Amen.

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