Let me close this campaign for re-election with an overdue apology. Four years ago, when I first asked you for the extraordinary and humbling honor to be your President, I got a little carried away. I was so caught up in the excitement of the incredible crowds, so moved by the remarkable and quite unexpected history we were making, that I promised you a vision that was not only impractical, it was by all measures unachievable.
Sure, all politicians make promises that they can’t keep; but despite my sincere belief in the goals that I shared with you in 2008, it would have been impossible for anyone to meet them. And I apologize for setting those expectations too high.
Where I feel I let you down most was failing to achieve my vision of a post-partisan politics. Like you, I continue to be fed up with our broken government, with the hyper-partisanship that polarizes and paralyzes our system, that makes tackling our nation’s most difficult problems nearly impossible. I really believed that my presidency could transcend our mean-spirited and divisive status quo.
Unfortunately, I failed. I certainly admit that some of the fault lies in my own hands. I failed to do the little things: the intimate personal gestures mastered by Lyndon Johnson, or the brilliant employment of the bully pulpit demonstrated by Ronald Reagan.
But frankly, the larger problem was that I encountered an opposition that made bi-partisan problem-solving impossible. As early as the night of the inauguration, GOP leaders were plotting to undermine, even destroy my presidency. One was candid about it, when he admitted that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
It would be unfair, however, to simply blame the Republican party for this phenomenon. While hyper-partisan obstruction by the opposition has never been worse than during this administration, it has been an enormous and growing problem over the past few decades. Indeed, our current political incentive system forces most well-meaning public servants to adhere strictly to their party line simply to stay in office. Compromise — the hallmark of our democracy — has become a dirty word.
I believe that it is time to change the incentive system. We need to fundamentally alter the way we do business in Washington so that elected officials no longer will be shouting from behind their partisan bunkers, and instead will be reaching across the aisle to work with their colleagues to solve the nation’s most difficult problems.
That’s why, if you choose to give me a second term, I will call together congressional leaders of both parties to the White House next week, and ask them to join me in changing the culture of American politics. I will bring to the table policy solutions that have been developed through diligent, bi-partisan work — proposals such as the Simpson/Bowles deficit reduction package and the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman climate change proposal — to serve as the starting point for negotiations to fix our country.
And, equally as important, I will ask them to endorse with me the ideas introduced by No Labels — a grassroots movement of more than 500,00 Democrats, Republicans and Independents — to Make Congress Work and Make the Presidency Work. These proposals mostly don’t require new laws or new spending, and they don’t favor any party or particular cause. They are simple, straightforward proposals to break gridlock, promote constructive discussion and reduce polarization in Washington.
I can’t promise that Congressional leaders will sign on. And that’s where you come in. If they refuse to accept my olive branch, if they resolve to proceed with continued obstruction and hyper-partisanship, it will be up to the American people to make them pay the price. I encourage you today, to sign on to No Labels to be prepared to apply pressure to all of your elected officials — including yours truly — to ensure that we promote problem-solving, not polarization; that we act not in the parties’ interests, but in the interests of the American people.
America truly reaches greatness when we all — elected officials and average citizens – – put aside our labels to do what’s right for the country. It is about putting our community and our country ahead of our selfish, pedestrian interests. And, in the words of the Scriptures, it is truly about loving our neighbors as ourselves.
My fellow Americans, if you give me a second term, I solemnly promise to fight my hardest to realize the post-partisan vision I painted during my first campaign. With your help — and only with your help — we can lift this country together out of the political muck, and toward common higher ground.