The American century

In my column Tuesday, “Mandate for change, ” I proposed that the new president and Congress begin an era of new thinking to rally our confidence and restore the notion of an American Century.

Our leaders can restore the sense of shared endeavor, optimism and drive of the FDR generation that built the boats that landed at Normandy and the JFK generation that reached the moon. Here are three ways to begin:

First: Let’s truly emulate Kennedy and mobilize the nation to make the mega-fuel-efficient car within five years. Let’s stop debating incremental bailouts and “small think” policy and act like a great nation again. Let’s set a hard, five-year goal of 75 mile-per-gallon cars or a battery-run car to banish oil in autos forever.

If JFK could lead us to the moon in 10 years, Obama can lead to us to the car in five, by mobilizing the genius and resources of America.

Why not unite both parties in a daring program of tax incentives for companies, workers and investors who achieve the historic goal? Why not enact a tax holiday for companies in the auto and battery industries that market the revolutionary cars that create millions of jobs and change the world for energy and the environment?

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) proposed a “bounty.” Why not enact a one-year tax holiday for capital gains, corporate taxes and personal income taxes, and a retroactive 100 percent research-and-development tax rebate for the companies that spearhead the breakthrough within five years?

Second: Let’s mobilize the nation for our veterans in ways not seen since the Greatest Generation. Today there are enormous shortfalls in veterans’ programs while Americans would march to a trumpet that sounds a call to action. The choice of Gen. Eric Shinseki as Veterans Affairs secretary was brilliant. Let’s mobilize the nation.

Why not initiate a Patriot Bond, modeled after the Savings Bond and the war bonds of the 1940s, to raise $500 billion over 20 years to honor our trust to vets? Why not have major newspapers run special sections on vets’ issues, and donate 10 percent from new subscribers and advertising revenue from companies that would be attracted to this cause? Why not mobilize entertainers for telethons, and Fortune 500s for cause marketing to inspire tens of millions of customers?

Third: Obama should make a worldwide appeal to young people and begin by doing something that is hard, not easy. Let’s agree that after Israel and her neighbors agree to a cease-fire in Gaza, the U.S. and democratic nations organize a major airlift of food, medicine and hope to long-suffering Gazans.

Any cease-fire must include security guarantees for all. This will end the short-term carnage, but the real solution requires an end to the hunger, poverty and disease that furthers the endless cycle of danger and death plaguing Israelis and Gazans alike.

The American Century involves renewal of the optimism, unity, daring, idealism and ingenuity of America.

Starting soon I will write a series of American Century essays on The Hill’s Pundits Blog, and invite discussion of new thinking for the Obama years.

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be reached at brentbbi@webtv.net and read on The Hill Pundits Blog.