Candidates: Make the Ask

As the presidential primaries roll on, there is an opening that the candidates must now seize. The candidates have people's attention and have heightened our sense of possibility for changing the tone and direction of politics and public life. But there's a critical step they must take: to ask individuals Americans to step forward and be part of the change inAmerica. We all remember after 9/11 when President Bush had the chance to ask people to engage in new ways, he told Americans to go shopping.  Perhaps that plea helped push the economy ahead. But what it didn't do was to galvanize Americans to work together in communities or to consider new policy options such as a bold energy program that might have asked changes of each American. The window of possibility opened, only to slam shut.

Now, the presidential candidates have discovered that "hope" is the coin of realm and that "change" is required. Campaigns have a way of dressing up ideas, proposals, and new directions in language and packaging that can appear to be citizen-centered and community-driven, but in reality remain very much about Washington and politicians and policies that touch the edges of change. But such words, and even the deeds that may follow, will only transform America if we're called upon to step forward to bring about new conditions in our communities, to tackle tough issues such as entitlements, or to pursue policy initiatives that inevitably will require serious trade-offs and sacrifices.

The moment before us is not simply about engendering a momentary sense of "hope" in people, but about people playing a real role in moving the country, their communities, and individual lives forward. This moment is too important to allow it to be squandered, to see hope used as just another tactic. So while voting is essential, we must do more if we want to create the change we seek. We must build community capacity, support a new breed of leaders, work to engage one another as citizens and not consumers, and create civic mind-share, otherwise this moment may be lost.

As the excitement of the primary calendar builds, as the field of candidates begins to narrow, as momentum around the notion of hope soars, an opening emerges in politics and public life for the candidates to ask every American: will you join with one another to improve our society and people's lives?

I wish for the candidates to make this ask, just as clearly and passionately as they talk aboutIraq or health care or the economy, because it's just as important.