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Daring to Dream

Posted on Jun 18, 2009

By David Sirota

Most of the great advances we remember involve reimagination and dreams, not merely tweaks and tinkers. The Wright Brothers’ plane wasn’t a newfangled horse and buggy, Einstein’s theories weren’t a simple update of old physics, and Edison’s creations didn’t aspire to make a brighter-burning wax candle. It’s been the same thing in politics. The Founding Fathers’ Constitution didn’t replicate monarchy, Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal wasn’t just tinkering with Hooverism, and Ronald Reagan’s revolution didn’t merely dismantle the welfare state.

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All of these inventors envisaged machines, theories or societies that never before existed. And that’s why for all the positive, even admirable steps Obama’s America seems poised to take, the aspirations still seem too small, too unimaginative, too confined by old parameters and old conceptions of how things must work.

Consider the Wall Street bailouts. By simply giving banks trillions of dollars with no strings attached, our government theorizes that the problem is not the financial system, but a momentary cash drought that can be solved by temporary recapitalization. These bailouts do not aspire to change the whole industry into one dominated by many small institutions rather than a few big ones. They also don’t reach for “a tightly regulated banking system, which made finance a staid, even boring business,” as Paul Krugman said we once had—they envision the same get-rich-quick casino that generated huge profits and huge losses.

On health care, even as the Obama administration pushes to create a public health care option for consumers to buy into, most of the proposals for universal health care being debated in Washington still imagine a health care system integrally involving private insurance companies. In fact, the one proposal that sees a new health care system without those companies—a single-payer system—has been shoved to the side by both parties as too radical.

Same thing, again, for efforts to address global warming. Bills compelling companies to cap their carbon pollution and then trade it for credits are positive steps. However, they still embrace an energy system that relies on fossil fuels—and they don’t strive for a day when we power our economy primarily with clean renewable energy.


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I could go on, but you get the point. We are suffering from a lack of imagination—a failure of “the vision thing,” as George H. W. Bush once called it.

Part of that is a product of a money-dominated political system whose most powerful forces don’t want anything reimagined because they have a vested interest in the no-imagination status quo.

Another part of that shortsightedness, however, stems from our president’s natural disposition. When I interviewed him in 2006, he acknowledged that the difference between reimagining institutions and aiming only to tinker with them is always the question that determines a political era. “Are you a revolutionary or are you a reformist?” as he put it before firmly stating which one he is.

“I think within the institutional structures we have, we can significantly improve the life chances of ordinary Americans,” he said.

There’s certainly merit to that line of thinking. We can, in fact, improve things for a lot of people by simply making many existing institutions work better. Patch a few banks, revamp the private insurance system and fiddle with our existing energy policies and we can prevent hundreds of financial industry bankruptcies, thousands of unnecessary deaths, and millions of tons of carbon emissions. Those would be no small achievements.

However, if that’s all we aim for, then we will have passed up this historic opportunity to structurally transform the country for the long haul. In short, we will have missed the chance not just to tweak, but to dream again.

David Sirota is the best-selling author of the books “Hostile Takeover” (2006) and “The Uprising” (2008). Find his blog at or e-mail him at

© 2009 Creators Syndicate Inc.

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By KISS, June 19, 2009 at 5:19 am Link to this comment

“The Founding Fathers’ Constitution didn’t replicate monarchy” But George the 2nd did and now it’s Obama’s turn to spin the cycle of serfdom upon us savages.
David you can do better, or are you blinded by the smoke and mirrors? In California when a salesman says ” trust me” the true meaning is a four letter profane word…why do I get that same feeling when our chosen leader tells those whoppers?

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By eileen fleming, June 19, 2009 at 4:55 am Link to this comment

Consider and IMAGINE a media dedicated to seeking and reporting the truth as a way to help change USA foreign policy!

From June 5-12, 2009, this reporter was embedded with CODE PINK activists who had been invited by the UN to cross into Gaza through the Erez Checkpont.

Israel refused us entry, but over 120 committed justice and peace activists entered through Egypt and erected three playgrounds.

2009 is the final year of the UN’s Decade of Creating a Culture of Nonviolence for All the Children of the World.

America is on the record in the UN as abstaining in support of this initiative, because “it would make it harder for us to go to war.”

I was in Jerusalem visiting with Mordencah Vanunu, while Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke at Tel Aviv University and CODE PINK was outside nonviolently demonstrating against Israel’s invasion of Gaza, settlements and separation wall-and getting arrested for it.

“Heavy handed police treatment of the CODEPINK: Women for Peace delegation began immediately after members of the group unfurled several pink banners that read ‘Free Gaza’ and ‘End the Occupation.’ 

“CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin and New York activist Zool Zulkowitz were physically dragged across the street while she cried: “Is this the great democracy that the U.S. taxpayers pay for with $3 billion dollars a year?”

I have cried the same refrain ever since I learned the story of Mordechai Vanunu, who has been denied the RIGHT to leave the state and the RIGHT to speak to non-Israeli ever since he emerged from his tomb sized cell on April 21, 2004.

I have been reporting on Vanunu’s FREEDOM of SPEECH Trial ever since it began on January 25, 2006- the same day Hamas was democratically elected.

On July 2, 2007, Israel sentenced Vanunu to six months in jail for speaking to foreigners in 2004-who happened to be media.

Two days before President Bush’s first trip to Israel, and a day before Vanunu’s appeal was to begin, Israel sentenced him to community service.

Israel does not recognize occupied East Jerusalem as part of their community, and they denied Vanunu the right to serve the sentence in his own community.

On September 23, 2008, the Jerusalem District Court announced:  “In light of (Vanunu’s) ailing health and the absence of claims that his actions put the country’s security in jeopardy, we believe his sentence should be reduced.”

Vanunu’s appeal fighting three months in jail-for speaking to foreign media in 2004 was to be heard on June 18, 2009.

Israel canceled the date and Vanunu continues to wait for justice and freedom.

Eileen Fleming,
Producer “30 Minutes With Vanunu” and “13 Minutes with Vanunu” freely streaming @ VANUNU ARCHIVES:

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By Carolyn Kay, June 19, 2009 at 4:26 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

So David, why did you help put this guy in the White House?

Carolyn Kay

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By everynobody, June 19, 2009 at 4:13 am Link to this comment
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By ardee, June 19 at 5:37 am #

For a man who makes such inspirational speeches, Barack Obama turns out to be one of limited vision, limited courage and of limited use to the American people.

The decay/collapse of the American empire isn’t just the failure of banking, manufacturing, rights, and the adoption of torture and ignoring the basic laws of humans. Those are all failures of imagination, vision, courage, morality, values, empathy, charity, and personal integrity; not to mention violations of our Constitution/Bill of Rights and finally the principles of that magnificent document, The Magna Carte. As time goes on I’m finding it more and more difficult to distinguish the differences between us and those we identify as enemies. Surely rhetoric can’t replace principles; surely rhetoric can’t hide reality; surely rhetoric can never replace integrity!

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By bogi666, June 19, 2009 at 3:53 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

One of David’s best articles ever and I’ve been reading him for years. What Obama is lacking is leadership abilities. A real leader wouldn’t whimper for bipartisanship about health care. The GOP’s health care declaration is simple “EAT POO AND DIE AMERICANS”, NO HEALTH CARE IS BETTER than any/all government options, buzz word for over 60 years being “socialized medicine”. Just propaganda. The HMO’S deny benefits routinely. In fact the HMO’s spend more to deny their customers than it costs to administer the Social Security Administration. Those HMO’S THAT deny benefits are paid bonuses for doing so.

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By ardee, June 19, 2009 at 2:37 am Link to this comment

So Obama seeks to make the lives of the serfs better….without meddling in the royal prerogatives of the ruling class to steal as much as they desire.

““I think within the institutional structures we have, we can significantly improve the life chances of ordinary Americans,” he said.”

The institutional structures we have are collapsing precisely because excessive greed and elitism rules every decision, because those decisions are made to maximize individual profit at the expense of everyone else.

For a man who makes such inspirational speeches, Barack Obama turns out to be one of limited vision, limited courage and of limited use to the American people.

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