That retreat blew my mind. I had no idea what kind of ideas I would have once I stopped trying to have ideas. America, you are going to see a new man. (Literally. The stiff who played me for the last two weeks sounded exactly like me and was a dead ringer, but man, was he tone deaf.)
For the first time in my Type-A+ life I was truly alone — just me and my mind, that is. No human contact save for occasional visits from my teachers, Jack Kornfield and Pema Chodron, and whoever slipped those awesome vegetarian meals under the door of my spartan dorm room. No phones, no TV, no movies, no reading, no writing. Lots of gentle deer, lazy cows (Is it politically incorrect to call cows lazy? I don’t care anymore!), magnificent horses, preening wild turkeys (I named one quartet Glenn, Rush, Billy and Sean) and sun-bathing lizards. I’d like to say I saw a mountain lion, but I could well have been hallucinating.
Anyway, it turns out my mind has a mind of its own. For days, painful regrets about the past and anxious projections about the future vied for supremacy, punctuated by wild stories that seemed to come out of nowhere. I was this close to hitching a ride back to D.C. but I stuck it out and eventually things inside my head calmed down. And there I was with nothing but the present moment. Then the insights flowed.
What so many have told me — that “compromising” with people whose only mission is to destroy me is counterproductive — became crystal clear. I’ve let the Repubs set the parameters so far to the Right that meeting them half way doesn’t come close to what I promised my supporters I’d fight for.
God knows I’m no radical — never claimed to be — but something radical needs to happen to shake things up and give Americans hope. FDR and Lincoln did it under far more difficult circumstances than these, and triumphed over vicious opposition.
I can’t control the media, the blogosphere, the Right Wing loonies or even my own party. But there’s plenty I can do, starting with…
- The Economy. Get rid of the corporate group-thinkers — Geithner, Summers, Rahm, etc. They’re all good guys (well, maybe not Rahm) but way too intertwined with Wall Street/mega-business to shape policies that can jump-start job growth and effect real change on Main Street. Restore Glass-Steagall. Hire more people like my new interim consumer rights agency chief Elizabeth Warren. How about Robert Reich for chief financial advisor and — here’s one that would create some shock and awe — Michael Pollan as Agriculture Secretary.
- Afghanistan. I cringe when I look at tape of myself rationalizing the “good war” in Afghanistan. Let’s get the hell out of there as soon as possible, helping the current government as much as we can and with minimal risk to American troops. That means within six months, a year at most. And I mean out!
- Social Issues. Stop giving convoluted answers about a host of social issues and tell people what I really believe. Start with gay rights. What could be more absurd than compelling gays and lesbians to lie in order to serve in the military? And what could be more of a no-brainer than legalizing gay marriage?
- Media Relations. Stop treating the media as the enemy. Have a press conference once a week and allow follow-up questions. Every time there’s a gotcha question, say “Gotcha” to the reporter and move on. Bag the weekly radio addresses and do more Facebook, Twitter and other social networking to reach people directly. (Gotta admit Sarah has me beat on that front.)
- Getting things done. Play hardball with the Republicans across the board. Use my recess appointment powers to get the scandalous backlog of judges confirmed. Threaten and, when necessary, deploy the nuclear option in the Senate.
- Politics. Let Presidential politics take care of itself. Smile as Newt, Palin and the rest fall over themselves with ever more demented insults about the President of the United States. As far as 2012 goes, hey, meditation or no meditation, I still have a huge ego. I ran a brilliant underdog campaign in 2008 without the powers of incumbency. And who have the Repubs got that can beat me? President Mitt? Commander-in-Chief Sarah? T-Paw? Newt? Please. Bring ‘em on!
Of course, all this stuff will create a huge backlash and all kinds of difficult consequences, intended and unintended. What if unemployment keeps rising? What to do if Afghanistan falls after we get out? And what if a blogger finds out I stole a candy bar from my friend Dave when we were 10? I can’t know for sure, but I’ve got to try every day to have the courage of my convictions and surround myself with others who will do the same.
Oh, one more thing. Meditate at least a half hour a day. Doing nothing for two weeks taught me something: If I want to get something done, there’s nothing quite like the tonic of doing nothing. And there’s an awesome side benefit: By the second week my senses were so heightened a simple birdsong might as well have been Beethoven’s 9th. Who knew there’s a legal way to get high?
Okay, maybe the President fantasized this whole thing. Or maybe I fantasized his fantasy. But unless we see some bold action, and soon, progressives will have more and more nightmares and fewer and fewer blissful fantasies.
Michael Sigman is a writer/ editor, media consultant and the president of Major Songs, a music publishing company.
Crossposted from Huffington Post with the author’s permission.