Every once in a while I have to come back to this tired old refrain but before I start let me suggest anyone who has not either seen on CNN or read in Time Fareed Zakaria’s piece entitled “Are America’s Best Days behind Us” in Time and “Retuning to #1” on CNN do so at their earliest opportunity. It is a succinct and realistic refutation of the political mantra about American exceptionalism one hears every politician spouting at every opportunity. The ugly fact is that we have slipped far behind many of our global neighbors some of whom many average Americans have never heard of in lots of critical categories that measure economic viability and quality of life.
For instance even though we spend more on healthcare (excluding what the government spends) than any other country we get less for it in terms of life expectancy, quality of life and quality of healthcare. In terms of infant mortality we are ranked thirtieth in the world and we are falling so fast in educational related rankings the quality of the work forces we can field are not competitive on a global scale. Additionally our government whose job it is to fix these things is not even focused on them. The house and senate are embarrassingly inefficient and paralyzed almost beyond belief as they struggle to please the special interest who have wrested control of the government from them through the legal bribery we allow them to engage in and that brings me to my main theme.
We need to fix this government if we are to ever stand any chance at recovering the status and prestige we once enjoyed by right of performance among the world’s nations let alone keep from losing ever more of our quality of life. There is no reason that the decisions of the last thirty years that have led us down the prim rose path to our current economic debacle cannot be reversed. We do not have to settle for allowing the worlds corporations to run our government and decide our fate. What we have done metaphorically speaking is leave the cash drawers open in front of our elected representatives and made thieves out of them and fools out of ourselves. We can change it though in time to turn things around if we act boldly, courageously and with expediency.
When you look at what our politicians are focused on relative to our most pressing problems it is almost enough to make one die laughing and crying at the same time. If our national debt is indeed the horrific destructive force it is represented as the solutions being suggested are of a quality to make a first grader blush. Both sides of the aisle are taking ever so gentle swipes at supposedly non-essential discreationary spending including Medicaid and education. Ron Paul even suggested dispensing with the entire department of education. That was not his best moment not that he has many to begin with. No one is seriously suggesting we reform our tax laws to get rid of the loopholes, special credits and corporate welfare that are so rife within the system they reduce the effective tax rate to god only knows what.
None of our precious leaders are looking at the small and relatively painless changes that could be made to all of our so called entitlement programs and trying to explain to the inevitable chorus of negative voices why they are necessary. In short none of them are willing to do the heavy lifting needed to put us back on track. Rather than reform our healthcare system in any real meaningful way republicans and democrats fought tooth and nail to avoid insulting the insurance companies, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies regardless of the fact that real reform would have slashed real money from the deficit. The fact is they are just not even trying to get the job done in any meaningful way and a meaningful solution to that problem calls for drastic and immediate action.
In my mind there are two parts to the solution the first being an absolute ban on corporate campaign contributions. This will be much harder to accomplish now that Citizen’s United (an oxymoron if ever I heard one) is in the can. Notwithstanding the fact that justices Thomas and Alito should have recused themselves the decision was just plain wrong and one the court could easily revisit if enough pressure was brought to bear from the citizenry. Even if it required a constitutional amendment it is the only way to shut the cash drawers. Corporations should not be considered people for tax purposes and the idea that payola is a function of their right to free speech is ludicrous on its face. I don’t care how many white papers they publish or policy pronouncements they make but I object vehemently to their being allowed to bribe my elected representatives.
The other piece of the solution is a grass roots movement to implement term limits of three terms on congressman and two on senators. For all of their vaunted heavenly inspiration this is one that the forefathers got wrong. It was vigorously debated and they decided not to include it partially because they considered public service a necessary sacrifice and did not really envision anyone wanting to be a professional politician. In their day you served a term or two and went home to the farm, cobbler shop, law practice or newspaper to resume your real life. That is exactly what they should be doing today.
The combination of meaningful financial reform and term limits will put our politicians on notice that we the people are in control of the government and holding them accountable for their performance as the employees they are. As much as they consider themselves some kind of aristocracy and above the law instead of servants to it they really are just our employees. If we remove the financial incentives attached to the job other than their salaries and make it clear that this is not a lifetime entitlement program but rather a position of service to the country we will get a much better result than we are getting now.
Our government is basically non-functional at this point and the laughing stock of the whole planet. It is our government though and our responsibility to fix it is clear enough. We will get and deserve the quality of government we settle for and right now our collective standards are just too dammed low relative to that quality. An attitude that the ship is too big, the task too gargantuan and the effort to onerous will only lead us further down the path of economic decay and a diminishing quality of life. If that is what we really want all it takes if for good men and women to do nothing.