Skip to main content

Commentary: Obama's ambitious agenda a good thing

  • Story Highlights
  • Roland S. Martin: President Obama criticized for having too big an agenda
  • Martin says we encourage our children and our companies to dream big
  • Columnist asks: Why shouldn't the president have big goals and high expectations?
  • Martin says if you shoot for the stars, you just might get there
  • Next Article in Politics »
By Roland S. Martin
Special to CNN
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font

Editor's note: A nationally syndicated columnist, Roland S. Martin is the author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith" and "Speak, Brother! A Black Man's View of America." Visit his Web site for more information.

Roland S. Martin says President Obama should be praised, not criticized, for having an ambitious agenda.

Roland S. Martin says President Obama should be praised, not criticized, for having an ambitious agenda.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Every day, parents and teachers across this country tell young people to dream big, not sell themselves short and prepare to go further and higher than the previous generation.

Corporations spend a lot of time, energy and money trying to get employees to get out of their comfort zone and think out of the box.

So can someone explain to me why it's a bad thing when the president of the United States does it?

After President Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night, several of my fellow political pundits cautioned the president not to have a large agenda. Don't seem "overly ambitious" was a buzz phrase of the evening. It was as if folks were channeling those who say, "Under-promise and overperform."

Sorry, folks, but I don't get that kind of thinking. How can the leader of the free world be overly ambitious? In these difficult moments with an economy brought to its knees, why have we become a nation of low expectations?

That also irked me during the campaign. I'll never forget the vice presidential debate and many of us discussing the expectations for what then-Sen. Joe Biden and Gov. Sarah Palin should try to achieve. I finally got so sick and tired of what I was hearing that I blurted out, "Guys! This is the second most important job in the world. I have higher expectations for my nieces, and they are in elementary school."

Frankly, I'm tired of presidents, members of Congress and everyday folk taking the path of least resistance. My pastor always says no day is promised, so if that's the case, why do we engage in this counterproductive lowering of expectations?

I have a theory that might explain it: We are afraid of failure.

When everyday people think of dreams and aspirations, it's often met by doubt. For politicians, they don't want to think big because if they never get there, then they'll be accused of overselling and coming up short, or having to back down from a big announcement.

OK, fine, stuff happens. But we should be encouraging ambitious thinking.

As I listened to the president talk about education, health care and ending our dependence on foreign oil, I felt great. He talked about creating millions of jobs, getting credit flowing again, investing in our social needs such as schools and at the same time, making "hard choices to bring our deficit down." And that doesn't even include his foreign policy goals -- including defeating al Qaeda, making progress on Mideast peace, stopping nuclear proliferation and combating worldwide disease and poverty.

It was the same feeling I got when Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush addressed Congress. It's wonderful to hear a president offer us a blueprint for the future, and if we can meet it, cool. (That's my niece Ana's answer to everything that tickles her ears.)

Obama knows that a second term is not guaranteed. He has been given four years. It's his chance to show the American people that he is willing to roll up his sleeves and get to work. Too many folks say, "Slow down. You don't want to bite off more than you can chew."


Tuesday night I compared the president's pronouncement to rapper Kanye West.

When he was promoting his CD, the Chicago entertainer told a number of journalists that he wanted it to be better than Stevie Wonder's "Songs in the Key of Life." That was seen as sacrilegious because Wonder's album is considered one of the greatest in the history of music.

West's response? Even if I don't achieve that feat, it will still be as good as anything else out there now.

West was willing to set as his target one of the greatest because he wants to be great. So why shouldn't we encourage that for everyone? Why do we have to accept mediocrity from our political leaders? We've had enough of that.

No one knows if Obama will be able to fulfill everything he outlined. Bill Clinton couldn't reform health care and George W. Bush didn't remake Social Security.

But making the effort to shoot for the stars means you might just do it. And if not? Then you give it your best shot and achieve as much as possible. Isn't that what we teach our children every day?

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Roland Martin.

All About Barack ObamaGeorge W. BushKanye West

  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print