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November 9, 2012 5:53 pm
Congratulations on securing a second term in office. I’m not quite sure why I’m writing to you as you’re not my president and I don’t intend on applying for US citizenship any time soon. But as you are my neighbour (no, I don’t own real estate on Pennsylvania Avenue or in Chicago; I’m Canadian), I feel it’s only polite to tap out this little note and extend my warmest wishes.
I spent the better part of Wednesday morning in Hong Kong peeking at my BlackBerry to catch bits of the election action and was relieved that your opponent did the graceful thing and conceded defeat without too much added drama.
I’m not sure about you but I feel Mitt Romney’s gentle thumping might force a complete rethink on the part of the Republicans when it comes to selecting future candidates. Gaffes aside, I think his whole look felt slightly dated and representative of another era. There’s no doubt he connected with a big portion of your country but I can’t help but feel the days of the super-white yet lightly bronzed, big-jawed, hairsprayed president are well and truly over.
I liked your acceptance speech – it was inclusive, human, decent and hopeful. I guess my only criticism was it lacked detail. Your advisers might have told you it wasn’t the time or forum to lay out a grand manifesto but I think this is exactly what everyone’s been waiting for. Sadly you’re going to be stuck with many of the same obstacles on the Hill but I think the work you’ve done with job generation and the Detroit rescue will persuade enough of your current adversaries to buy tickets or even a season’s pass on your train.
Of course, (almost) everyone will be happier if you’ve got plenty of high-speed track and that’s why you’ve got to give your rail initiative another bash. This time you’ve got to go out and sell it properly. As too few of your citizens have sampled the delights of the best rail in Japan, Germany and Spain, you need a bit of razzle-dazzle to move the discussion away from just an environmental, car vs carriage debate.
What you need to do is chat to your friends in Hollywood and get some sexy train scenes in some films and TV series so the nation starts asking, “Why don’t we have a bit of that?” In fact, why not turn this next term in office into a new age of American ingenuity. The folks at GE and Boeing get more buzz and credit for doing big launches and initiatives overseas than they do in their home market, so why not shake things up a bit by getting some of your biggest corporations to kick-start some landmark projects that’ll change the daily routines of your countrymen?
A couple of weeks ago I noted that neither you nor Romney offered much in the way of urban initiatives. In an age when there’s more pressure on cities and many of yours are crumbling at the core, I think you need to create a new department charged exclusively with regenerating your biggest economic hubs while thinking about future urban development. There’s no doubt that some cities are doing a good job on their own but many need leadership from the front and that’s why you need a sharp practitioner to join your next set of senior staffers.
I’m sure you’ve come across the very bright Amanda Burden, who’s employed by Mayor Bloomberg as New York’s urban planner. I think she’s your woman. As Bloomberg backed you due to your commitment to the environment, I think if you ask nicely he might let her take up a post in Washington before his term is up next year. And while you’re chatting to him, I think you should offer him something interesting. It would be good to see him play a statesman-like role on your behalf, such as ambassador-at-large or secretary for domestic disarmament – ie getting rid of guns.
I don’t mean to pry but I’ve been wondering what role the first lady is going to play in your second term. I felt your victory speech hinted at bigger things. I know it would ruffle feathers to make her head of a department but what about leading the charge for a complete lifestyle rethink? I doubt you read this column every week but some time ago I argued for the appointment of a secretary of scale. I don’t have the space to go into all the details but the headline was that America needs to learn to live smaller – more sensibly sized houses, tiny cars, trimmer portions, reduced reliance on credit etc. Don’t you think this is the type of thing Michelle could lead? Not only would it make people healthier, encourage greater density in cities and reduce fuel consumption, it would also be a course correction that would encourage other nations to follow.
I hope you have some nice holiday time planned in Hawaii. If you go, you must try the excellent Japanese at Miyabi. Congratulations again.
Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine
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