In a matter of weeks the front pages of broadsheets across the US will have a different focus to that of the past year. Gone will be the shots of charismatic campaign moments alongside commentary on the latest candidate misstep. Instead, reams of newsprint (and hours of cable network news) will be devoted to how newly re-elected President Obama or President Romney will approach the task ahead: leading a country that is home to over 300 million people, 50 distinct states and $16tn (€12.4tn) in debt.
Whether Barack Obama will overcome partisan divide in Washington with a second term or if Mitt Romney’s much-hyped business know-how can really fix the economy remains to be seen. And if Obama’s 2008 campaign is anything to go by it’s unlikely that any foreign-policy promises made during the run for office can be assured.
However, from carving a new identity for US aviation to offering school children a more global view, there are a few things that we think it would be smart for the eventual winner to consider. Rather than sniping from either side of the political divide over fiscal policy, perhaps investing time and money into encouraging cities to become homes for craft manufacturing would help balance the budget. And instead of relying on noisy rhetoric regarding the global superiority of the US, toning down the hyperbole and turning up soft-power diplomacy would do wonders for the image of the US abroad. Here then are the 10 issues that the next president should start work on in January 2013.
Having led the way 50 years ago, American aviation is among the worst in the industry with many global travellers avoiding a transfer via a US airport. A dedicated government committee could roll out the welcome mat: spruce up the airports, airlines and flight attendants and make security procedures less militaristic. Enticing people to make a stop in JFK rather than Dubai or Bahrain would do wonders in terms of flying the flag of soft power.
During an Olympic year it’s clear that national pride can be a wonderful thing but sometimes it goes too far. While nearly every American politician, elected official or public figure can secure applause simply by announcing their country as “the greatest nation on Earth”, it’s a phrase that doesn’t do much for foreign relations. Tone down the chants of “U-S-A!” at any opportunity and instead focus on bettering the things that actually make the country great.
The next president should heed the words of the third. As Thomas Jefferson espoused, there should be a separation between church and state in US governance. Policies that ban issues such as same-sex marriage (currently only six states and Washington DC allow it), abortion and access to contraception on religious grounds are turning the clock back on the ideals of modern society on which the US was founded.
Make room for space
US forays into other countries receive a mixed reception but its exploration of other planets is something everyone can get behind. Having already cut budgets for sending people to the moon, the Obama administration has proposed reducing funding for Mars exploration by 40 per cent, which is likely to shut the programme down. While balancing the federal budget deficit is no joke, the US should invest more in this opportunity for global esteem.
Follow Bruce Oreck’s lead
Known for his muscles, casual clothing and conspicuous earring, US ambassador to Helsinki Bruce Oreck has a fresh approach to American diplomacy. Charming and charismatic, he’s the chair of the League of Green Embassies, a network of embassies around the world setting examples for renewable energy. While not ideal for every American diplomatic mission, Oreck’s genial style should be the standard for US ambassadors posted to friendly countries.
Improve the rail network
Once an important means for connecting cities and the spread of industry across the US, further development of a decent rail network was abandoned during the 1950s in favour of Dwight D Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System. Sixty years on and the idea of getting from one part of the country to another in a comfortable train carriage is a distant dream. Since 2009, Obama has made considerable advances in bringing the US up to speed with its rail network but much more needs to be done. While California voted earlier this year to approve spending on its first high-speed rail line, Republican governors in Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida refused federal stimulus money designated for the same end. The next administration needs to follow in current transport secretary Ray LaHood’s footsteps and go full steam ahead with high-speed rail, creating jobs and bringing transport into the 21st century.
Learn a lesson
While home to some of the world’s best research centres and universities, education in the US is not all rosy. With American teenagers ranking below those in countries such as South Korea, Australia, Japan, Finland and Canada in reading, mathematics and science, the forthcoming generation needs help to be globally competitive. The next education secretary should look to the example being set by the Avenues School in New York. Although exclusive, its language-immersion courses and international study programmes present ideas that should influence how all US students are taught. Adopting the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Act, which is currently being considered by Congress, wouldn’t hurt either. Assigning $80m (€62m) a year to enable American college students from a wide range of backgrounds to study abroad, it would help to foster a new crop of American global business leaders.
This October, the Statue of Liberty marked her 126th birthday by reopening her doors to visitors after a period of renovation. A symbol of the immigrants who built America, future administrations should take greater note of what she represents. As states such as Arizona, Alabama, Georgia and Indiana impose more stringent anti-immigration laws, Baltimore is capitalising on the advantages that attracting talent from abroad can bring. Democrat mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake plans to attract 10,000 new families, including immigrants, within 10 years; she has banned authorities from questioning city residents about their immigration status. Mexican immigrants alone contribute about 4 per cent of American GDP and 18 per cent of small-business owners are immigrants. A constant stream of new immigrant groups working hard to make their mark can secure America’s economic future.
The US would benefit from better relations with its neighbours south of the Rio Grande as there is considerable opportunity for influence. Still the largest trading partner that Latin America has, the US also bolsters the economies of countries such as Colombia and Guatemala with foreign aid. With Hispanic Americans the youngest and fastest-growing demographic in the country, the US is poised to capitalise on the growing economic strength of Latin America if it can work to ally itself with the region’s powerhouses. Cuba would be a good start: an improvement in rapport would speak volumes to the rest of the region, which is at odds with the US’s continued embargo on the country. Endorsing Brazil’s bid for a seat as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council would be a forward step in publicly recognising the country’s growing global influence.
From cars to clothing, America should recognise the value of domestically produced goods. While shoring up jobs has been used as a political calling card this election year, the long-term implications of fostering the maker movement are far greater. Post-industrial cities from Detroit to Buffalo can be rejuvenated by the encouragement of craft and small-industry jobs in their centres. The Department of Commerce should lead a national campaign to promote the brand value that is an inherent part of the Made in America label. Apprenticeship programmes in schools should also be encouraged, partnering young, aspiring craftsmen with small businesses that are in need of an extra pair of hands. Cities around the country should look to the example of San Francisco’s TechShop, which gives members access to a workshop of tools and equipment to bring any project to life.