On Nov. 4 2008, I was an American in Brussels as I watched Barack Obama turn red states blue and win the Presidency of the United States (not to worry, I waited in a two-hour line to vote absentee before I left the States!).
I’ll never forget the next morning, having coffee with a close friend from Trinidad who has spent her adult life in Europe. She and I sat and beamed, uncontrollably giddy and excited, having stayed up all night watching the returns. After eight long years, the nightmare was over. And I’ll always remember what she said to me as we sat in her kitchen that morning:
“I forgot how great America can be.”
It was an amazing experience being in Europe for the historic election last year. Sure, it would have been fun to roam the streets of D.C. or join the thousands celebrating in Chicago, but being in Europe was special in its own way. Walking the streets of Brussels on the 5th, it might as well have been any city in America considering how much people were talking about the election. And I was proud. Really proud. I wore my Obama button for days, no longer envious of the Canadian flags Americans had been sewing on their backpacks for years. Obama was MY President and I was perfectly fine with all these Europeans being jealous.
But that one statement from my friend hit me more than any other experience during the election last year, and has stuck with me ever since. American can be great. It has been great. And on Nov. 4, 2008, so many of us around the world knew America could be great again.
Now, after a long year of challenges ranging from efforts to save the economy, reform health care, and deal with troubled wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, people all over the world are beginning to take stock of the President’s first year in office and consider what he’s achieved in light of the great expectations held on his first day in office.
Well, at least in one policy area, when he comes to Copenhagen for the climate talks next week, the President has an incredible opportunity to show the world how great America can be.
Speculation has begun in earnest as to what he might say, and of course a lot seems obvious. But what should he say? Well, to start, I’d offer a few points that might personally make me proud:
- Recognizing that climate action can create jobs and stimulate the economy, President Obama should lay out a plan to make deeper cuts in U.S. emissions;
- Understanding that the U.S. has caused a disproportionate amount of the climate change we are seeing today, and that climate stabilization is in the national security interest of the U.S., President Obama should pledge real, substantial, and additional funds to support developing country adaptation and mitigation efforts both in short and long term;
- Recognizing that the U.S. can’t go as far as it should without domestic legislation, President Obama should commit to putting the full weight of the White House behind ensuring the Congress passes ambitious domestic climate legislation this Spring;
- Understanding that the world needs the U.S. to be a part of the solution, President Obama should commit to come back to Copenhagen on Dec. 18 to sign a fair, ambitious and binding deal. If such a deal is not achieved this month, he should personally commit to coming back to the negotiations in the first half of 2010 to sign the full agreement.
He could surely say a lot more, and I hope he does, but these four elements might help make this trip to Copenhagen a successful one, in my view.
A plea to my President: Please, President Obama, when you come to Copenhagen, help us remember once again how great America can be.