to Modernize America
Partisan politics have been a staple in the American experiment ever since this nation's conception. Contrary to popular belief, our Founding Fathers fought every bit as much as we do over the issues of their day. However, the massive commercialization of politics in our modern world is something new. The emergence of 24/7 political analysis on television, coupled with the explosion of political talk radio and the ever-present stream of "best-selling" books, has caused the supposed rift between left and right to widen and deepen over the past two decades. Like the devil himself, pundits on both sides are continually clashing to claim the political souls of man. Unfortunately, this bizarre and prideful war has sacrificed sincere political debate and rational inquiry upon the altars of fame, money and control. Politics in America has become more about who can yell the loudest rather than who can inspire meaningful dialogue. The voices yelling at us through our televisions and car radios care more about provoking an emotional response from their target audience than they do about creating sincere thought-provoking commentary. As a result, you end up with a society that becomes obsessed with conspiracy theories, evil government plots and doomsday hype.
Don't get me wrong, I believe that politics are important. It is both right and good that "We the People" be involved in our nation's political discourse. With that said, it is not acceptable to allow one's pride and/or personal leanings to distort reality, and unfortunately this is what is happening in American politics today. Politicians on both sides are virtually handicapped by know-it-all pundits and a dim-witted populace, who can't see past their own entrenched partisan bickering to effectively distinguish the forest from the trees. In addition, this collection of simple-minded hacks usually does nothing more than complain about our nation's state of affairs without presenting any plans or solutions. I guess they enjoy the misery that comes with bitching about life without the responsibility that comes with trying to fix things.
It is for these reasons that I believe people who engage in political discourse have a responsibility to outline their solutions to the various problems they see before them. Anyone can whine and complain about how horrible things are but very few can articulate a clear plan to correct those things. In essence, one has to pretend that he/she is the president (a scary proposition to say the least). After all, it's one thing to scream from the sidelines and quite another to be in the game.
As one who enjoys INTELLIGENT political discourse I offer up my "Twelve Step" program for America. One of the problems I have with our fair nation is that it seems to be falling behind and is afraid of the modern world. We are caught up in a bizarre and incorrect desire to "return" to the "glory days" of long ago. This is foolish for two reasons: first, looking back prevents one from moving forward. Second, the "glory days" are an illusion. As Thomas Jefferson stated: "I prefer the dreams of the future to the history of the past." To live in the past is to die in the past. Sure, it is important that we all study our history (and as a historian I do that quite often) but the future will ALWAYS be superior to the past. Learn from the past, but don't live in it.
So, without further delay, here are my "Twelve Steps" to modernizing America (if I were president):
1.) Quadruple Funding for NASA
This would be the single most important goal of my "administration". I would give NASA a virtual blank check, but at the same time be a thorn in their side, demanding a mission to Mars, exploration beyond our Solar System, etc. Now, I know that we live in tough economic times but that does not mean we should cut funding for what is arguably the most important agency in the United States. That's right, I am calling NASA one of the most important government agencies in our land. I know that those opposed to further funding for NASA have said things like, "NASA has become outdated", "We've already explored everything worth exploring in our Solar System", and "there are more pressing issues than sending rockets into space", hence the reasons why the space shuttle program was ended (click here for my opinion on the end of the shuttle program) but all of these excuses are just that: excuses. The fact of the matter is that we CANNOT affort to cut spending for NASA. The technology created by the Apollo program alone has resulted in incredible growth and prosperity for humanity today. Without NASA, you can say goodbye to the modern car, iPods, satellite television, GPS navigation, virtual reality, artificial limbs/joints, dialysis, MRI and CAT scans, breast cancer screening, improved water filtration, temper foam, improved eye glasses and eye surgery, cordless power tools, remote controls, athletic shoes, personal alarm systems, weather forecasts and warning systems, cellular phone service, protection for endangered species, many forms of plastic and metal alloys, the Internet, etc., etc., etc.
Yes, space travel is dangerous and expensive but it is worth every single penny. There is no doubt that the continued exploration of the heavens will require great sacrifice of both wealth and manpower. It will require patience, sacrifice, bravery and fortitude. Yes, more astronauts will be lost in the process and more children will see first-hand the unfortunate consequences of human exploration, but is there a greater lesson to be learned? Would we not prefer to have our children emulating people like Neil Armstrong, Christa McAuliffe and John Glenn instead of Katy Perry, Kim Kardashian and the cast of Jersey Shore? Shouldn't our goals be to land a man/woman on Mars instead of becoming the winner of American Idol or Next Top Model?
You cannot put a price on what NASA has given us.
2.) Invest in Infrastructure and Civic Renewal
Ok, here is another area in which I would spend BIG money. Our nation's infrastructure SUCKS and we need to improve it. In addition, we need to invest in civic renewal. I believe we could kill two birds with one stone here by investing in local community projects that would do both. We don't just need better roads and bridges, but better transit systems, playgrounds, parks, community centers, health clinics, libraries, etc. And you can't tell me that the money isn't there because over the past decade we have seen a huge number of state of the art sports arenas being built all over America. Now, I am not against these stadiums being built (they are good for local businesses, generate a ton of money and are a good diversion) but they are not as critical a need as those I listed above. It is time that we draw people out of the bleacher seats and living rooms and into the common spaces of democratic citizenship. If we are to have better public discourse that would require us to gather together. It is time we invest in community again. As Martin Luther King stated: "We hate each other because we fear each other, We fear each other because we won't sit down and talk together."
Included in this project would be a massive federal program to construct a high speed rail system across our nation. For whatever reason, the United States has fallen behind Europe and Asia in this regard. The construction of a modern railway would prove beneficial for a number of reasons: first, it would be a huge, long-term job creator. Second, it would create competition with airlines, which have long neglected the American traveller, and third, it would modernize our national infrastructure. Sure, it would be very expensive but I believe worth the cost. Eisenhower's Interstate Highway Act of the 1950s was met with tremendous opposition but was eventually hailed as one of the finest presidential investments of all-time. Building a modern high speed rail system would be even greater.
***Ok, so the first 2 ideas are big spenders. The next 2 are where I would cut spending.***
3.) Reduce Military Spending
Everybody knows that the United States needs to cut spending, however, nobody seems to want to face the basic fact that our biggest spending problem is the military. Now, I know that the military is important and everyone wants to (rightfully) support our troops, but the fact of the matter is that military spending over the past 30 years has been atrocious. President Eisenhower's quasi-prophetic warning of the military-industrial complex is a reality today that we need to reduce. Our nation consistently spends over half a trillion dollars every year on defense, which is more than the next 38 nations combined (35 of which are our long-time allies) The reason that no politician wants to cut military spending is simple: it would be impossible to get elected. Pundits would be able to portray such a politician as being "anti-American" and against our men and women in uniform. But Americans are eventually going to have to accept reality here. Let me be clear that any military cut would not go towards active service members or veterans (veteran funding is actually a separate category from defense spending anyway). Instead I would eliminate contractors (who are essentially nothing more than hired vigilantes and/or mercenaries). I believe we can cut military spending dramatically without effecting national security.
4.) Phase out the U.S. Postal Service, Eliminate Homeland Security
One of the things that bugs me most about those wacky tea-party folks is their bizarre deification of the Constitution. They treat the Constitution as a religious idol that is more holy than scripture. And though I revere the Constitution for what it has provided, I side with Thomas Jefferson in his appraisal that the Constitution is a living, breathing document that must change in order to survive. The 18th century was a great time for America but let's face reality, those days are long gone. The earth belongs to the living, not the dead. As a result, I think we can safely assume that some things in the Constitution need to be changed or done away with. Case in point: the U.S. Postal Service and Homeland Security
The U.S. Postal Service has been a great institution for over 200 years but it has served its purpose. Gone are the days when mail delivery needs the protection and sanction of government. The emergence of private mail couriers and electronic mailing have made the U.S. Postal Service a dinosaur that is sucking resources. Since the 1950s the U.S. Postal Service has limped behind private companies in a futile attempt to stay relevant. I am not one of those "the private sector does everything better than the government" types, but in this case I think it is pretty clear that the Postal Service is an outdated relic that is simply costing taxpayers too much.
In addition, the Department of Homeland Security, one of the most ridiculous government bureaucracies in American history, sucks over $100 billion every year just for its basic operations. It is the most pathetic, wasteful, over-the-top government agency in American history. Prior to 9/11, the United States already had 22 major federal law enforcement/intelligence agencies under its umbrella. The creation of a new agency, which receives more funding than all the others, is one of the most irresponsible acts of the Bush Presidency. I would abolish it completely.
5.) Create Extremely Strict DUI Laws.
I'm not against people who drink. I'm not against people who party at bars. I'm not against people who love getting hammered in their free time. To each their own. HOWEVER, I am EXTREMELY against those who choose to drink and drive. Every year in this country roughly 20,000 people are killed in DUI related accidents (roughly half of all automotive fatalities). And let us not forget the estimated $75 billion every year in legal/medical costs. That means that every three years more Americans are killed by drunk drivers than soldiers killed in the entire Vietnam War. And though law enforcement has done an excellent job of reducing DUI fatalities over the years I still think they need more help. As president, I would adopt a hybrid of the Swedish/Russian strategy to DUI laws. In Sweden, an offender is imprisoned for A MINIMUM of a year, while in Russia you lose the privilege of driving FOREVER. Some may think this is strict but consider the fact that in this nation a felony conviction (or domestic violence conviction) results in you never being able to own a gun again. How is a moving vehicle any less of a weapon?
6.) Establish a National Teacher's Corp and Modernize the American Classroom
The problems facing America's educational system are multi-faceted. Everyone wants to blame "the teachers", "the administrators", "the union", "the parents", etc. as the exclusive scapegoats for all that is wrong with education in this country. Reality, however, is that education requires ALL participants to take responsibility for their respective roles. Yes, there are bad teachers, bad parents and bad even students, but that doesn't mean we can't fix the problem.
Of course, the basic starting point to improve education is the classroom, and as president that is where I would focus. It is time that we modernize the American classroom. It's time to do away with traditional teacher-in-front-of-chalkboard/students-sitting-quietly-in-desks education. We need to modernize our approach. In addition, I would support new teachers (and provide them funding for graduate education...that's right, our teachers need graduate level education) by creating a federal Teacher's Corp. These teachers would then "repay" their schooling by working in areas where needed.
7.) Create a National I.D. Card
Now I know that the conspiracy theorists and the Bible-thumpers would freak at this idea, but spare me the "Big Brother is watching" and/or "Mark of the Beast" rhetoric. We live in a modern world, and that means we need modern day ideas and technologies to keep us safe. A national I.D. card is good for two reasons:
1.) It would help keep track of immigrant workers and aid in controlling illegal immigration. The only surefire way to control immigration is to control workers. Immigrants come here for one reason: jobs. This national I.D. card would be required for ANY form of employment (and severe punishments would be created for those who hire workers without an immigrant card). The idea of building a wall on the border is stupid. There are ways around, over, under and through all walls. A national I.D. card (and immigrants would, of course, have a different card than actual citizens) would help to monitor, control and regulate immigration. It's the best alternative to an almost impossible to control situation.8.) Bring Back Jobs From Overseas
2.) Identity theft is the fastest growing form of crime in America today. A national I.D. card could help to alleviate and protect our citizenry. It would also do away with the need for social security cards/numbers. A national I.D. card would allow for easy, efficient and effective crime protection, passport/visa application, job protection, etc.
It’s time to bring back the jobs that corporations have been sending overseas. America is in dire need of a manufacturing sector. One way to do this is to make it more expensive to outsource jobs. That means outsourcing is going to have to be a profit killer. Essentially, I would enact a 50-75% tax rate on all profits made due to outsourcing. That would force companies to hire American workers so as to avoid that kind of tax. Is it harsh? Absolutely. But it will force American companies to hire American workers. In addition, I would place stiffer regulations on imported goods. This would help give American companies an advantage over their foreign competitors. It's time that we reinvigorate the "buy American" slogan.
9.) Eliminate the Electoral College System
Here is another example of outdated constitutional law still being used in the modern world. The electoral college was a wonderful, cutting-edge idea in the 18th (and even 19th) century but it is stupid today. Pure and simple.
10.) Create Term Limits for Congress.
Our Founding Fathers were great men, but they were not infallible men. I think it is safe to say that they missed the boat when they established a congress without term limits. I understand why they did what they did (it made perfect sense back then) but it needs to be changed. Having life-long congressmen today is an affront to effective democratic government. I propose two, four-year terms for the Senate and four, two-year terms for the House. That way, no person in congress would exceed 8 years.
11.) Abolish the Death Penalty.
I know there are a lot of people who agree with the death penalty, and I don't necessarily blame them, but I am 100% against the death penalty. It is archaic, barbaric, immoral and just plain wrong (IMHO).
12.) Prohibit Lobbyists and Religious Institutions from Government
The idea that corporations, churches, institutions or other groups with particular interests should be allowed to lobby members of Congress is insane. No elected official should ever be given a single cent from any lobbying interest. This is common sense.
There you have it. Let the debating begin!