On a Monday night in late July, President Obama stood before a camera in the East Room of the White House. He would speak to a nation gripped by fear of an unprecedented default on the nation’s debt. He sought to assure market stakeholders of the strength of our nation in the face of adversity and encourage the American people to spur their Congress into taking action. And then came the Reagan quote:
“‘Would you rather reduce deficits and interest rates by raising revenue from those who are not now paying their fair share, or would you rather accept larger budget deficits, higher interest rates, and higher unemployment?’ And I think I know your answer. Those words were spoken by Ronald Reagan.”
During a time when the world’s economies face unique challenges, our political discourse remains rooted in the past rather than moving forward to adapt to the here and now. The debt crisis plaguing the Eurozone (which has only existed as an economic unit since 1999) and the emergence of new geopolitical and economic powerhouses represent only a few of the new obstacles that stand in the way of economic recovery. New challenges deserve a new approach. Yet our national discussion regarding our fiscal and monetary sustainability and the political arena of the 2012 presidential election both remain fixated on stale rhetoric.
A report recently issued by the MacArthur Foundation found that 65 percent of the jobs that will be taken by today’s grade-schoolers when they graduate college do not currently exist. Despite the troubling state of the global economy, it will likely expand so rapidly that in only a couple decades time it will appear completely alien to anyone currently reading these words. Think of how the Internet has reshaped international commerce. These changes will continue to take place, and at an ever more rapid pace.
Although our challenges are unique to now and our answers clearly lie in the future, our leaders have flocked to the words and the ideas of the past. President Obama has used Reagan to demonstrate that even the pride and joy of fiscal conservatives would have seemingly backed his approach to the debt crisis. Republicans, especially candidates for president, have been quick to associate certain pieces of legislation and ideals with the New Deal and its basis in big government. The tea party has adopted the classic “Don’t tread on me” slogan and a flag from our revolutionary era. Members from across the political spectrum have reverted to placing modern day issues in the light of antiquated viewpoints. This is troubling.
Lessons can be and should be learned from history. But the leaders from decades and centuries past cannot and will not be able to solve our 21st-century problems. America’s current leaders have been elected or appointed to guide the country into a new era, and at a polarizing crossroads, one of our priorities should be crafting a new lexicon for a new political age. As demographics, economics, business, technology and education change, so too should our discourse and how we carry out our political conversation.
As college students, our University serves as a microcosm of an active political body: one that represents numerous points of view and generates fresh approaches. Thus, a key responsibility lies with us to shape our discourse in a way that accomplishes what our politicians have failed to achieve: a degree of newness in what we have to say. I have seen in my short time here so far that Yale is a place where students can be agents of change on a city, state and even national level. Let us look to the past as a reminder, but let us look to the future for our words.
Jonathan Silverstone is a freshman in Berkeley College.