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9 Kick-Ass Things Obama Should Do In a Second Term

The chances are rising for an Obama second term. But what do we really want him to do?

Lady Luck may be smiling once again upon President Obama. The unemployment rate is coming down from post-WWII highs, the Grand Old Party is having a grand old time demolishing itself, and the chances are rising for an Obama second term -- this week his favorability ratings  went into positive territory for the first time in months. His chances of re-election are running at 60 percent on Intrade, the betting market.  

But what do we really want him to do? Is our only wish that Obama be better than whichever right-wing Neanderthal he runs against? Or do we have a compelling vision for America we’d like him to enact? If so, what is it?   

To get this debate going, here's a modest list I believe would have resonance with the vast majority of Americans, assuming the president really gets behind them. (My editor warned me not to go off the deep end, so forgive me for not aiming too high.)  

1. Free higher education at all public institutions of higher education.

The airwaves are full of pious bluster about how America needs a more educated workforce in order to compete globally, blah blah blah. Yet we have no compelling public policy to get us there. Instead, students are becoming indentured servants as they struggle to pay back enormous student loans. It’s about time we learned from the GI Bill of Rights, which allowed millions of WWII-era veterans to go to school for free.

Now is the time to do the same for all Americans by waiving tuition at every public college and university in the country (including community colleges and graduate schools). You get in, you go for free. Yes, it’s a costly program, maybe $50 billion or more per year. (We’ll get to revenue questions below.) But the impact on our economy and society would be immensely positive. 

First of all, eliminating tuition would send millions back to school. That alone would lower the unemployment rate rapidly. Second, millions of new education-related jobs would be created to meet the increased demand -- jobs that could not be outsourced. And most importantly, we’d have a much smarter workforce and a more informed population, which is crucial both for our economy and our democracy. 

2. Add a million teachers (and teachers' aides) to the public school system.

It’s a disgrace that local school districts all over the country are cutting back on teachers due to a financial crash caused by Wall Street’s greed. It’s even a bigger disgrace that the gap in educational outcomes between rich and poor students is widening. One effective antidote is for the federal government to fund local school districts to add a million new teachers over the next year. Not only would such a program help increase the educational outcomes of all children, but also, it would cut deeply and quickly into the unemployment rate. There is no better way to put our people to work. 

3. Medicare for all.

It’s time for the president to admit that his hodge-podge healthcare program is deeply flawed. It should be replaced as soon as possible with a single payer/Medicare-for-all system. We need a simple, easy-to-use system that gives everyone access to good healthcare -- including preventive care -- from cradle to grave. No more employer-provided insurance. No more private insurance companies figuring out how to avoid paying claims. No more wasteful administrative BS. If Canada can do it, so can we…but only if the president fights for it for the next four years.

4. Manhattan Project for renewable energy.

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