“You make me proud to spell my name W-O-M-A-N.” - Maya Angelou
On the morning of June 14, 2016, I found myself surrounded by 5,000 women as part of the first day of the first United State of Women Summit convened by The White House at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. The #StateofWomen movement brought together activists from all 50 US states and from around the world. The Summit was a result of President Obama’s establishment of the White House Council on Women and Girls, which was initiated seven and a half years ago.
The two-day gathering focused on key gender equality issues including economic empowerment, health and wellness, educational opportunities, violence against women, entrepreneurship and innovation, as well as leadership and civic engagement. Participants had the opportunity to celebrate their achievements and to be inspired to meet the challenges yet to come. The stimulating plenary sessions were mixed with solutions seminars, entertainment, and exhibitions. The Summit featured speakers such as First Lady Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Nancy Pelosi, Kerry Washington, Patricia Arquette, Tory Burch, and Shonda Rhimes among many others. The MCs of the Summit were two very powerful women’s right advocates: Valerie Jarrett and Tina Tchen. The stimulating plenary sessions were mixed with solutions seminars, entertainment, and exhibitions.
This is the third post in a three-part series from Brian Levy on the manner in which the media, activists and politicians talk about the role of government. This post is about Obamacare. It’s hardly news anymore, I know. But my focus is less on the details of America’s ongoing efforts to reform its health sector, than on the way the discourse has played out – making the post another in my series on the dysfunctional ways in which we speak about government.
In an earlier post, I explored Great Gatsby-style carelessness. This time, I want to introduce a dance move — the ‘good governance high standards shuffle’, a display of exuberant glee (disguised as disappointment) whenever the real world intrudes, and the outcome of one or another public initiative is less than perfect.
In the same way that it can be difficult to distinguish between real tears of disappointment, and malicious glee hiding behind crocodile tears, sometimes the ‘high standards shuffle’ can be difficult to detect. Sincerity can all too easily get ‘played’ by cynicism in disguise. While some dancers of the standards shuffle are clumsily obvious, others have the moves down pat — making it hard to tell whether or not one is being played. (And some exponents might even be unaware that they’re doing the standards shuffle.)
Each year, as part of my teaching at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, I select a ‘live’ example of the challenges of public management. A few weeks ago, as I described in another post in this series, I used the case of Washington’s Metro to explore with my students at SAIS the costs of careless in our discourse about government. In 2014, my focus was on the ongoing American debate on health care reform (also known as “Obamacare”). That debate offers a marvelous opportunity for seeing the high standards shuffle in action – an opportunity that has not diminished with the passage of time. So: come dance with me……
An exchange in the United States Congress early this past summer illustrates what the clumsy version of the standards shuffle looks like. Here (as reported by the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank) is President Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human services, Sylvia Burwell, being grilled by Sam Johnson, Republican Congressman of Texas:
"Because ultimately, in an information age, open societies have the capacity to innovate and educate and move faster and be part of the global marketplace more than closed societies do over the long term. I believe that."
Barack Obama, President of the United States, speaking August 6, 2014 at a Press Conference after U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.
Photograph by Lance Cpl. Michael J. Ayotte, USMC, available on Wikimedia Commons
Each month People, Spaces, Deliberation shares the blog post that generated the most interest and discussion.
In October 2014, the most popular blog post was "Realization of the Dream" by Leszek Sibilski.
In this post, Leszek describes the "changing faces" of his students in university courses and ponders whether terms like “minority” or “cultural differences” will one day be obsolete as his students come from increasingly diverse backgrounds.
While acknowledging that there is still plenty of space to improve, Leszek reminds us that focusing on differences can limit our ability to connect with each other. He writes, "Instead of building societal firewalls, we should expose the negative vocabulary for classroom and public discussions in order to raise public awareness supported by mutual understanding."
For the last 15 years, I have been a Sociology Professor in private and public institutions of higher education in the Metropolitan area of Washington, DC. Every year, every semester, I was able to observe the constantly changing faces of my students. At one point I asked my class: “so who is the minority in this classroom?” and, in return, I heard a choir of young voices: “You, Dr. Sibilski!” During all those years, I taught students from all the inhabited continents of all religions and orientations. Although I am still patiently waiting for a student of Eskimo heritage, I think it is only a matter of time. Most students take introductory sociology classes to fulfill their academic requirements so I am very fortunate to be exposed to the entire palette of the student body. As I teach on a daily basis about social justice and equality, I am seeing that our daily work is starting to mold a student who is well acquainted with the religious and cultural differences of his/her classmates, and race or ethnicity is not an issue anymore, especially when group projects are assigned. I am starting to believe that terms like “minority” or “cultural differences” very soon will be obsolete and will not remain in vogue. Martin Luther King Jr. in his famous “I have a dream speech” of August 28, 1963, was yearning: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” I feel very privileged to witness the realization of King’s dream.
"And so the good news -- and we heard this in the summit -- is that more and more countries are recognizing that in the absence of good governance, in the absence of accountability and transparency, that’s not only going to have an effect domestically on the legitimacy of a government, it’s going to have an effect on economic development and growth. Because ultimately, in an information age, open societies have the capacity to innovate and educate and move faster and be part of the global marketplace more than closed societies do over the long term. I believe that."
-Barack Obama, President of the United States, speaking August 6, 2014 at a Press Conference after U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit
-Barack Obama, President of the United States, speaking about the difficulties he faces as a second-term president struggling to make progress on his priorities and to work constructively with Congress
Last week, President Barack Obama appeared on comedian Zach Galifianakis’ Web-based show “Between Two Ferns.” The president’s purpose for doing the show was to promote HealthCare.gov. Julia R. Azari, a political scientist of Marquette University, provides a interesting analysis on these types of appearances by political leaders; how they cultivate a less formal image and provide an opportunity to engage with the public through unconventional media channels. You can read her post here. But first, enjoy the show! Here's a link to the video.
“Nothing comes to my desk that is perfectly solvable. Otherwise someone else would have solved it. So you wind up dealing with probabilities. Any given decision you make you’ll wind up with a 30 to 40 percent chance that it isn’t going to work. You have to own that and feel comfortable with the way you made that decision. You can’t be paralyzed by the fact that it might not work out.”
- Barack Obama, President of the United States of America
As quoted in Vanity Fair, October 2012, Obama's Way, by Micahel Lewis