We may be the verge of a potentially seismic shift in the national political agenda and conversation, best represented by President Obama’s remark last night in his speech about reducing troops in Afghanistan: “America, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home.” The day before the NY Times had a related lead story and headline on “urgent domestic needs” and reported that the Conference of Mayors approved a resolution calling for an early end to our military role in Afghanistan and asking Congress to redirect billions toward domestic needs, especially jobs. It was the group’s first venture into foreign policy since the Vietnam war!
Obama’s remark signaled a vital shift in the national conversation, one that had already begun without him but which he was politically savvy enough to recognize and seize. The question now is what, beyond job creation, will make it onto the new list of domestic priorities. Will special interests see a pool of billions of dollars now in play? Will politicians see that largesse as a new way to appeal to the middle class? Or will those most vulnerable and voiceless finally be included in the national conversation?
This new political dynamic will likely be framed very quickly and once it is it will solidify in ways that are hard to change. I anticipate a frenzy of competition to influence the new agenda of domestic priorities. This window will not remain open long, but it is the first crack we’ve seen in more than two decades and we must think hard about how to leverage this opportunity on behalf of those most affected by hunger and poverty.