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What I Learned at the White House

So now we get to the meat of the day; the “soy protein” as it were for vegetarians like me.  As I said in one of the first posts, all I entered with was a vague understanding that we’d be discussing broad categories such as the economy and the Let’s Move! initiative.  I was worried that since the gathering was pegged as a “women’s” online summit that there would be a pinking down of the information.  And I didn’t want the softer side of our economic crisis; I wanted to hear the facts, plain and simple.

And that’s what I got.

So thank you, White House.

The day was arranged by the Office of Communications and had about 15 or so speakers covering a wide-range of topics: from education to military family outreach to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.  The first 3/4ths of the day were briefings by the speakers (everyone from the First Lady’s chief of staff, Tina Tchen to Elizabeth Warren, who has to be one of the most dynamic, engaging speakers I’ve ever heard).  The final 1/4th of the day was a discussion on how the administration is utilizing online media as well as brainstorming about how they can do it better.

Because they don’t take the online world for granted.  I think they know that they might not be in power right now without the grassroots ability to organize and communicate quickly which is afforded by the Internet.  From day one, this administration has been about two-way communication, and while that’s a difficult task with 310 million people, they have to be commended by at least attempting to give the average American access to the ears of lawmakers.  And their focus on the online world is reflective of their knowledge that they need to leverage both — traditional media and new media — to get their message across.

So what is their message?  In a nutshell, it’s about helping the world become flexible enough to deal with the changes that have swept over it while the system stood rigid.

How does that apply directly to the various topics we discussed:

  • Military: there is going to be ramped up support for military families — both those serving who are moving between active service and veteran status as well as their families back home (especially those who are off-base or who need to move and find new jobs due to their partner’s military status).  As the White House said, “1% of the population is serving, and 100% should be aware of their sacrifice.”  Because that is something the other 99% of us can do — support those who serve in the military.
  • Let’s Move!: it’s the one-year anniversary of this initiative this week, and it’s limiting to think about it as a public health issue.  This is about infrastructure — are the parks and sidewalks in place so people can get the exercise they need?  Is our outside world safe so we can walk instead of drive?  This is about community development just as much as it is about taking care of our health.  And I loved the idea presented about the way little changes have big consequences.
  • Health Care: we learned the bare facts of the new Health Care bill, and frankly, it was pretty eye-opening.  The main message is that if you like your insurance, nothing is going to change.  But if you are having problems, you finally have support.  A lot of the health care focus was about empowering consumers – insurance companies can’t try to confuse us anymore.
  • Education: the administration is looking at a cradle through career agenda.  They want to support teachers so they can do their job, make greater accountability in No Child Left Behind, and bring more girls into STEM fields.
  • Workplace: workplaces have to adapt to a different type of worker.  Women are wearing a lot of hats at the same time and workplaces need to be flexible.  The Administration is supportive of work sharing because it means we retain workers and in-house knowledge.  Productivity benefits from flexibility.  They want to help employers become more flexible.  There was a lot of emphasis on the Women Owned Small Business Program.
  • Accessibility: 1 out of 4 homes do not have access — either logistically or financially — to broadband Internet.  And while we may scoff that having the Internet isn’t necessary, the White House would argue that as the world moves more and more online, we develop a deeper rift between the haves and the havenots.  We can’t make computers a priority in schools or communication and then not give people access to the online world.  And this is the way communication has moved, therefore, the system needs to be flexible and move with it.
  • Economics and Personal Finance: there was a lot of talk about how we come out of a recession as well as what got us into a recession.  The emphasis is on making sure that the average consumer can be a careful consumer.  That companies can’t confuse us or give us the run-around.  That there is going to be a new bureau aiming to make sure the laws in existence are enforced.

One of the highlights of the day was when the President came into the room and spoke about how women have “a broader bandwidth of stuff to deal with.”  He looked at everything discussed as people issues rather than women’s issues.  We happened to be looking at them through the lens of women, but everything that affects women affects everyone else (since, as the President says, “women are at the intersection of the family.”)  He talked a lot about how women need to balance their own needs with career, keeping the family going, raising kids, worrying about finances.  It was moving to have the President recognize how difficult it is to “have it all” as well as the tremendous pressure — either out of necessity or desire — to still attempt to … well … have it all.

My overall take-away was that the administration’s heart is in the right place.  That the collective 310 million Americans is a fairly unmanageable beast, and we will never have complete adoration of every policy passed by the administration — I’m an enormous supporter of the President and even I am not enamoured with every idea he puts forth.  But that aside, the administration is staying true to their vision (yes, this is about their vision, not our own personal ones), and that is the only measurable aspect to a politician — do they remain true to their overall goals and attempt to work toward them?  And on that end, yes, the administration is doing a lot on their end to ensure that the transparency and communication they promised are being offered to the American public.

I don’t intend for this to become a political blog by any stretch of the imagination, but I loved thinking about this element of the situation: that the disseminating of information is an enormous game of telephone, with each site interpreting the ideas until it barely resembles the original message.  I loved walking out of there and thinking about not the people hearing the messages, but the spaces in between all of us, and what happens to the ideas when they travel over those spaces.  I walked out of that room looking at all of this as a writer, first and foremost, and as a consumer who often feels as if the news outlets aren’t giving me enough of the story.  I am an American who feels as if she is getting her most accessible information from The Daily Show. (Seriously, for those of you without a background in economics, how many to you understand the current financial crisis?  I certainly don’t.)

I am now on the press release list for the White House and sometimes, I’m going to sit in on phone calls.  I’d like to post my thoughts afterward under the new tag “Politics as Usual.”  If you want to skip them, I completely understand.  It’s sort of like how I feel about phone solicitors around election time.  The one difference is that I am not attempting to point out just! how! fantastic! this! candidate! is! for! you!  I am attempting to present just the facts, ma’am and give my opinion on them.  To make these big, amorphous ideas a little more concrete.  And sometimes I’m going to think the administration rocks.  And sometimes I’m not.

If you are non-American, I hope you read them so then we can discuss — what is our government doing that seems truly ass-backwards when compared to other nations?  What is our government doing that truly rocks-out when compared to other nations?  I give accolades for what I perceive to be applause-worthy.  But I’m also not shy about voicing criticism I feel as well.

So, yeah, like our government, I’m going to be transparent.  I’m a Barack Obama supporter, democratic voter, kumbaya-singing socialist in actuality, and a great lover of trying to understand things outside my ken as well as disseminating information.  Anything that comes under the Politics as Usual tag, unless noted, is based on information I got directly from the White House or another branch of government.  And I am not a huge fan of anything political — perhaps a product of my Washington upbringing — but damn, I love a good chunk of facts and debating them.

Hopefully, you will stick around and debate as well — because the only thing more boring that discussing the economic woes of the country would be if we all held the same political viewpoint.  Yes, I really do want to hear your point-of-view even if it differs greatly from mine (though let’s keep things polite since, you know, the whole kumbaya thing).

So, the Question: Sounds good?  Or has reading this post been as painful as a transvaginal ultrasound?  I’d like to hear your honest opinion — which I’m sure will vary from person to person and I’ll still do what I want to do, but perhaps I won’t subject you to all of the ideas I geek out on if you tell me you’d rather have a camera in your vagina that read this.

Personally, I’m finding all of this a lot more exciting than the insurance person who said yesterday, “now we need to talk a little more about your breasts and reproductive organs.  For instance, there would seem to be something wrong with them … right?”


1 Delenn { 02.08.11 at 9:24 am }

First off, thanks for sharing this whole White House experience with us!

I would love to read your political threads–partially because I relate to your ideals, partially because I want to hear what the White House is thinking. I like rational discussion of the topics at hand.

Oh, and you mentioned Daily Show (!) 🙂

2 Bionic Baby Mama { 02.08.11 at 9:33 am }

to answer your sub-question instead: i highly recommend the Planet Money podcasts from NPR, especially starting with the pieces that the same team has made for This American Life.

…not to say that i don’t also love me some daily show.

3 a { 02.08.11 at 10:07 am }

I’d love to hear your take on politics, as I was getting my news info from The Daily Show too until they cut off my access at work. I can’t watch regular news without yelling at the “on-air personality”. And I got a little smile out of hearing that Anderson Cooper got punched while in Egypt. So, yes to politics!

4 Beth { 02.08.11 at 10:12 am }

I’m intrigued. I’m more toward the right side of the political spectrum, but am always ALWAYS interested in hearing ideas and issues presented in real terms by people that I respect. And since you fall pretty high on the list, I’m down for hearing your take on the issues, and even volleying over my opinions, when I feel moved to do so.

Bottom line, I think you should put it out there, and see where it goes.

5 celia { 02.08.11 at 10:26 am }

I find this administration to be the same as the previous in that they seek to distract us with something shiny. My honest opinion is that I am so worried about the GMO alfalfa that my husband and I began seriously discussing leaving the country last night. I don’t give a damn what they say, I see that ARE in bed with Monsanto. Though I am a blogger, I find in this case- talk is cheap.

6 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 02.08.11 at 10:50 am }

I’m in, though I often feel like the “why” is left out of policy decisions. Why tweak No Child Left Behind rather than entirely abandoning it and starting over?

7 magpie { 02.08.11 at 10:57 am }

I’m glad my days of regular dildo cams are behind me.

Yes, please write more about this. It’s cool, and a different perspective than the usual.

8 Katie { 02.08.11 at 10:58 am }

This post made me pee my pants a little bit with excitement. While I’m not extremely political, I do share your views, I believe in this administration, and I’m very anxious to hear what they are working on and what they have to say.

Looking forward to these posts!

The girl who also gets her news from Jon Stewart. *swoon*)

9 Barb { 02.08.11 at 11:03 am }

YES!! Exciting and can’t wait. I love this stuff too and it’s Sooo hard to find reasonable discussions about it. You have a gift for doing that so I say use it!! 🙂

10 Laurie { 02.08.11 at 11:09 am }

Sounds good! Very readable and thank you for sharing.

11 loribeth { 02.08.11 at 11:15 am }

Everything is political, to some extent. Bring it on. : )

12 Tigger { 02.08.11 at 11:30 am }

While I am not terribly political, and the post doesn’t excite me to the hilt, I also don’t mind reading. I get my news, my politics, what’s going on in the world from my friends – usually via FB, and mostly from one person. DH and I will discuss stuff I see, as I quite often need clarification I’m not likely to ask said friend for, but still…I like getting different viewpoints. And you’re getting it direct from the WH, not through a media filter. 🙂

13 Birds and Squirrels { 02.08.11 at 12:59 pm }

I would love to read your political threads. I have been frighteningly out of touch with news and politics this last year since Birdie was born, so it would be great to read your thoughts on things.

14 Delenn { 02.08.11 at 2:50 pm }

I agree with Mama–the TAL podcast about the financial crisis was very well done made the whole thing alot easier to understand.

15 Briar { 02.08.11 at 3:49 pm }

Agreeing with the TAL and especially Project Money podcast recommendations. NEVER thought I could be interested in anything about Economics but it is now the number one most-listened to in my podcast rotation.

16 Kir { 02.08.11 at 4:04 pm }

I always love your opinion on things and I believe you would give us a small glimpse into things that some of us (me, me, me) don’t really understand. i’ll look forward to the columns and the discussions.

17 Lut C. { 02.08.11 at 5:26 pm }

I don’t know if you can compare politics without comparing context.
I live in a society I experience as mostly secular.

From where I stand, I wouldn’t call the U.S. mostly secular as a society. A world of difference.

18 TasIVFer { 02.08.11 at 8:24 pm }

Bring it on! I’d love to hear what you think – and would really love it if we all commented back bringing our different opinions based upon our different points of view and experiences. And I’d love to tell you about the things considered normal in other countries that half of your country seems to think is the devil’s work (just love reading about healthcare debates in the US! 😉 ).

19 Josey { 02.08.11 at 10:58 pm }

I think this is an awesome opportunity…awesome information…and I’m glad to learn more about it all through you. Thank you!

20 Bea { 02.09.11 at 5:26 am }

Who said that??

I think it’s definitely worth the experiment to see how it goes. I’d wager there are enough people here willing to talk politics to make it work and the level/type of debate on this blog tends to be of pretty good standard. And those who aren’t into it can always click on, as usual. It’s not as if you’re planning to talk only about politics. So yeah! Go!


21 coffeegrl { 02.15.11 at 8:16 pm }

I’m all for a bit of the politics. I really do believe that the personal IS political. How can it not be? I’m not saying that we all want to discuss macroeconomics all the time, but when it comes to things like food policy/agriculture/health care – a lot of those things are *deeply* personal and I think we all have a vested interest in them one way or another. Love to hear more esp. what the take of the White House is. I generally consider myself a Democrat, but that doesn’t mean I agree with everything the WH does. Why for ex. is genetically modified alfalfa fully deregulated??? And what does this mean for our organic crops? I’m worried.

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