Opinion

What Horgan Can Learn From Obama’s Big Mistake

The campaign to build support for a party’s vision can’t end with the election.

By Michiah Prull 10 Aug 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Michiah Prull is the founder of Avalanche Strategy, a past director of communications and public engagement for the David Suzuki Foundation, and a veteran of both 2008 and 2012 Obama campaigns.

As I watched the inauguration of John Horgan, I was reminded of Jan. 20, 2009, when I stood on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building and watched Barack Obama — the candidate I’d campaigned tirelessly for — sworn in as president of the United States. As the ceremony concluded with a bone-shaking cannon salute, I was brought to tears of relief that, for the first time in my life, I had a president I believed in.

On that day Obama transitioned from campaigning to governing. While our campaign staff debated how to continue the grassroots movement that won the White House, we also agreed that the president must represent all Americans, not only those who voted for him. We believed it would be a mistake for a sitting president to campaign for their government just as they had campaigned for office.

While we rightly sought to represent all Americans, ceasing to tell the stories that inspired and guided our actions was a mistake with immense consequences — and important lesson for new B.C. Premier John Horgan.

Early on, the Obama administration zeroed in on health care as the top priority. Tens of millions of Americans were without health insurance and routinely faced the impossible choice between physical and financial security.

Do you buy asthma medicine for your child or put food on the table for your family? Do you pay for a hip replacement with retirement savings, or live out your days in a wheelchair to avoid ever asking your family to pay your bills?

The failure of our health care system struck at the core of America’s commitment to the ideals of fairness, freedom, and opportunity.

Yet the conversation quickly turned from the principles of fairness and dignity to pragmatics of risk pools and insurance premiums. The Democrats drilled down on the policy minutia of health care and lost track of the moral imperative of their goal. As the debate intensified, we told fewer stories and recited more statistics.

The House Republican leader routinely proclaimed that he should be able to buy health insurance the same way he can buy car insurance. Democrats replied with a litany of policy prescriptions, but never with the appropriate moral outrage based on of the belief that a human life is not equivalent to an automobile.

By failing to present a consistent story of our values, Democrats lost the battle for the hearts and minds of millions of Americans. Our failure to continue to campaign on the stories that brought us to office fundamentally undermined our ability to achieve the vision that the majority of Americans voted for.

This is the ultimate challenge of political leadership: to operate simultaneously at the level of moral vision and pragmatic policy; to move seamlessly between the values that guide your goals and the legislation required to achieve them; to never stop telling the story that inspires your people, while remaining grounded in the pragmatic action of delivering on your promises.

As I watch Horgan assume leadership, I hope that his team focuses just as much on their moral position as their policy positions, and that that they never stop telling the stories that empower and guide them in achieving the vision that their supporters voted for.

That the new government may learn from our mistakes, I offer these reflections.

Successful leaders are storytellers above all. And the story your government tells every day must not only include jobs, services and sustainability but also fairness, justice and hope. This can be hard to remember as the pragmatic pressures of governing mount.

Remember that housing policy requires more than solving supply and demand; it requires a principled recognition that a home is not a commodity but a basic building block of human security. Our communities are made stronger by prioritizing fair access to homes for families over unlimited access to investment for speculators.

Remember that affordable childcare is about more than dollars and cents; it’s about the equal opportunity of women to contribute skills, passion and ideas to our communities through challenging and rewarding careers that benefit us all. If Frederick Banting had to choose between kids and a career, he may never have isolated insulin and saved countless lives.

Remember that climate policy is about more than taxes and targets; it’s a matter of ensuring polluters pay their fair share to ensure a safe and prosperous future for all. It is a question of the highest moral order: what world will we craft for our children to inherit?

In 2009, we failed to fully recognize the responsibility not only to campaign with compelling vision, but also to inspire citizens and government to achieve this vision once in office.

May John Horgan’s government lead with the clear-eyed courage of their convictions so that we may all be inspired to create a better B.C. together.  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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