Monday is the official start of my Obama inauguration diet. Having secured the nomination, I believe that Barack can beat John McCain in the general election. This means that after months of binging on the primaries, I have just over six months to get in shape, and I have a lot of work to do. Here is my plan.
Trim excess partisanship from my politics. Not all Democratic ideas are good for you and not all Republican proposals are unhealthy. This primary season has suggested the possibility of new coalitions and revealed the fragility of the old ones. I am training my political palate to appreciate a more refined approach to party politics.
Replace the unhealthy breakfast of American TV political news with a healthier alternative of imported foreign correspondence. Let's face it, the televised, political news coverage in the United States is so stuffed with pundit fillers and partisan fat that it is not a healthy way to start the day. I am substituting the fresh and trim perspective of foreign press sources. It is healthy to view the country through the eyes of the rest of the world. I am not cutting CNN and MSNBC completely; all things in moderation.
Look for organic and locally-grown politics. I am purging my political cupboards of the packaged and preservative-laden political approaches that parties have been feeding us for decades. I am especially vigilant to throw out anything that expired in 2000. In its place I am going to support political efforts that have emerged from local communities. Ordinary citizens are doing significant work in neighborhoods and cities to fight global warming, improve education, battle HIV-AIDS, increase racial tolerance, develop economic opportunities, stop genocide in Darfur, address malaria in Africa and end the war in Iraq. I am filling up my political plate with their fresh ideas and organic approaches.
Develop my political muscles by lifting heavy policy texts. The world is full of really good policy ideas and many of them have been written down for us by smart journalists, historians, political scientists, former bureaucrats and political advisors. Getting politically fit requires committing time and effort to engaging these "heavy" texts. I will remember to alternate between domestic and foreign policy. I don't want to overdevelop one set of muscles and let the other atrophy.
Tackle hills to improve my heart. It is easy to run the wide, flat, well-paved paths of politics where so many others have already tread. But to get stronger, I know you have to hit the hills and tackle the rugged terrain that most people are afraid to engage. It takes heart to suggest new ways of viewing a political problem and to offer unpopular alternative to solving big issues. I plan to run up some hills by advocating for things like universal health care, sentencing alternatives and aggressive emissions reform.
Take a daily vitamin of pragmatic optimism. Nothing is more important to staving off the potential injuries caused by cynicism than a daily vitamin of audacious hope. I find that I cannot get all the nourishment I need from progressives who argue that nothing can get better. I have to supplement with a little multivitamin of faith.
If I can stick to this diet on a daily basis, then I should be in great political shape by the time the Obamas move into the White House. By the way, I am also cutting calories and going back to the gym. A sista has got to look good in her inauguration gown.
Melissa Harris-Lacewell is an associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University.