During a panel on "Investing in People," Karen Kornbluh, who was then-Senator Barack Obama's policy director, the author of the Democratic platform and sometimes called "Obama's brain,"* made an important distinction between acute and chronic crises. Obviously the financial crisis and recession demand immediate attention from the new administration, but the new president made clear throughout his campaign that long-term, systemic challenges will also be addressed, from health care reform to energy and climate change. Kornbluh referenced the New Deal, as many panelists today have, to examine how FDR used his moment to not only address the immediate crisis but to help society bridge the gap into full-fledged industrial democracy. As we address a new economic era now, similar social policies are needed so that the needs of families are addressed in the context of their lives in the modern economy, not in its 20th century predecessor. Some of the ideas she mentioned are found in this piece from Democracy:

In his 1985 book Family and Nation, the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote, "No government, however firm might be its wish, can avoid having policies that profoundly influence family relationships. This is not to be avoided. The only option is whether these will be purposeful, intended polices or whether they will be residual, derivative, in a sense, concealed." As Moynihan knew, government policies have real effects on the lives of families, producing real and often unintended consequences. Sometimes this is the result, as Moynihan implied, of policymakers not fully understanding the scope of their actions. But, just as often, it can be the result of changing patterns within the American family itself. Indeed, over the past generation the American family has changed dramatically, but the policies designed to mitigate the risks it faces have remained frozen in time, many of them operating on rules developed in the midst of the Great Depression. As a result, the most vulnerable families in the new economy all too often wind up with limited protection in times of need.

After the speech, I spoke briefly with Kornbluh, who told friends she saw the panel as an opportunity to "start thinking again" after a hiatus from the hectic campaign. "I think [Obama] talked about these chronic issues throughout the campaign, an energy challenge, a health care challenge. He was very serious ... [and] the American people recognized it." As she said in her speech, during the campaign Obama was "not just asking for your vote. He was asking for your engaged citizenship."

-- Tim Fernholz

*Compare policy expert Kornbluh, the person sometimes called Obama's brain, with Karl Rove, sometimes known as Bush's brain. Refreshing, no?

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