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If I Could Make a Request

I've been thinking about what it is I hope President-elect Obama will do once he takes office. Obviously there's a long wish list out there. The jobless want him to address unemployment. Unions want him to make it easier to organize. College students want him to lower the cost of education. Retirees want him to strengthen Medicare. The list goes on.

All these concerns are understandable. If I lost my job, finding a new one would be my priority, and I would want the President to help -- not directly, of course, but by creating a climate favorable to job creation. If I were retired, health care would be a critical concern, and I would want the President to ensure that Medicare would continue to be around for me.

But I'm not jobless and I'm not retired. I'm not a union member or a student. There's nothing in my life driving me to look to the government for assistance. So what it is that I want?

If I could make a request of the new President, it would be this:

Look to the future.

Mr. President-elect, I know you face a daunting list of action items. You are about to inherit the most challenging environment for a new president in my lifetime (which is only slightly shorter than yours). Many of the issues you must address are acute and demand immediate attention before they metastasize into larger problems.

That said, please keep in mind that we have been borrowing from the future to finance prosperity today. Yes, of course, this includes the national debt, which is incomprehensibly large and which will consume an ever-larger share of our budget in service payments if we don't do something about it. But it goes beyond fiscal issues alone. We have been adding carbon to the atmosphere because it has been cheaper to pollute than not to do so. We have been creating and extending entitlement programs without a clear path to pay for them in the future because doing so makes our lives easier today.

The problem is that all these bills -- essentially, national credit card bills for purchases we as a society are making, enjoying, and consuming today -- will come due for our children and our grandchildren. And it's hard for me to imagine many things more unfair than that.

Simply put, we as a nation have been living beyond our means. In the 2000s, we have run up inexcusably large deficits. In the 1990s, we stood by and did little or nothing while our allies began to address climate change. This is not a failing of Republicans or Democrats. It's a failing of us all.

Mr. President-elect, you have talked about the need for sacrifice. I believe that many Americans are prepared to make sacrifices if they clearly understand the purpose behind them. And I believe that many Americans are beginning to realize that we cannot continue to damage the future in order to make our lives easier today. So if you ask me to sacrifice, and if you can explain to me that my sacrifice will be to help undo this damage, and to begin to pay the various monetary, environmental, and other debts I have accumulated as a citizen of this nation, then I will make such sacrifice not reluctantly, not begrudgingly, but enthusiastically, and will think even more of you for asking it of me.

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