Easy steps to a better America:
1) Vote against ALL incumbents in Washington. We, the people, are the power brokers. Not the lobbyists. Not the big donors. Not the corporations. Us. As in U.S. However, we are a lazy bunch. We don’t want to spend our free time studying every issue. That’s why we have elected representatives. We don’t elect rulers. We elect servants. When, as a class, our servants fail to serve, we should dismiss them. This has clearly become the case in Washington. We hold the leash but seldom do we jerk it. It’s high time we did.
That being said, I do not side with those who want to change the lifetime appointments of justices to the Supreme Court. I believe the Court has to remain free of influence, including influence of public opinion. As we have seen, the general public is emotional and tends to make hasty decisions without proper deliberation (Iraq, racial integration, etc). The Court has to step back, to take a wider view of history and the Constitution. Often it has to make decisions that are counter to the opinions of the general public, but are aligned with our Constitution.
As for elected officials, the Founders were either incredibly lucky or incredibly wise in the term lengths of political offices. Those with shorter terms (members of the House) are more influenced by public sentiment and seem to be more emotional or hasty when making decisions. Those with longer terms (members of the Senate) seem more deliberate and cautious, as they are not up for reelection, and therefore answerable to public opinion, as often. The President is right in the middle, and with the power of the veto, a balance between the hasty and deliberate. The exception to this is the President serving a second term. In effect, the last term is a lame duck term lasting four years. Unable to run again, the lame duck President has the luxury of being more deliberate, knowing there is no reelection with which to be concerned. He/she may want to assure their successor is from the same political party, in order to preserve the legacy they leave behind, but that does not carry the same urgency as wanting to remain President. Those in the legislature, who become lame ducks, only have that fate/luxury for a few weeks. Recently, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas argued that the Senate should not confirm Presidential appointments during the lame duck period as these Senators are no longer affirmed in their office, since they failed to be reelected or have decided to retire at the end of their current term. I disagree wholeheartedly. Senators in that position are able to vote their conscience, without fear of losing their office. We desperately need people who vote their conscience. In fact, I believe it is time to enact term limits for legislators.
I also feel that elected officials, as our servants, should not have benefits unavailable to the rest of us. No special health benefits. They can have whatever programs exist for the general population. No lifetime pensions. How many of you have a pension? If elected officials had to look forward to depending on Social Security, like most Americans, perhaps they’d be better stewards of it. I’m not completely against pensions, as some of us have them. They help insulate our representatives from financial influence. That being said, no one should be guaranteed a lifetime of leisure after a relatively short time on the job. The Founders envisioned citizen legislators that would return to private life after their time in the Capitol was over, but they did not codify this in the Constitution. It’s time we amended it to reflect the reality of our political system.
2) Fire your favorite pundits. At both ends of the political spectrum, radio, television and other media have found that facts don’t sell nearly as well as conflict. Those of us who listen to political discourse almost always choose to listen to those who reinforce our views, rather than challenge our views. Should we just have yes men/women informing us, or should we try to understand both sides of an issue, before taking a position? It’s much easier (and more comfortable) to be told our natural inclinations are correct. The pundits have divided us to the point we can’t speak civilly to those with differing opinions. Don’t believe me? Check out any Facebook posting with a political position. The comments after the posting will be full of vile name-calling. We would not speak to another person like that, if he/she were standing in front of us, so why do we do so when we’re anonymously typing away in the privacy of our homes? I remember a time when news organizations tried to present both sides of a debate. That was a public service. Today’s news organizations no longer do this. We control their funding by controlling their advertising revenue. Editorials are fine, as long as they’re labeled as such and are not the entire program. Again, time to jerk the leash.
3) Trust your fellow citizens. I truly believe the vast majority of us are well-intentioned, kind-hearted people. Just look at how America jumps to aid victims of natural disasters. How many times have you donated to those suffering around the world? Most of us are middle-of-the-road, fiscally conservative and socially progressive.
We have to trust that the vast majority of people on welfare are not cheats, defrauding the system. I myself have collected unemployment compensation, while trying to find work. Sometime, especially during tough economic conditions, that can take a very long time. As it has already been shown in Florida, the vast majority of those on unemployment do not have illicit drugs in their bodies. So why are we throwing away more money for drug testing people on unemployment than we’re spending on those who are defrauding the system? It’s OUR money! Demand that it be spent wisely.
Most of us want secure borders for our country, but not to the point that people fleeing violence or repressive governments are kept out at gunpoint. America’s strength comes from our society being a melting pot. We take the best people have to offer and build a brighter future. We won World War II, in part because brilliant physicists fled Nazi Germany. We landed men on the moon, in large part, by leveraging the experience of those who created V2 rockets that rained down on London. Will our culture change due to the influx of outsiders? Of course! It always has been so. Immigrant waves from Ireland, Italy, China, Vietnam, Mexico and many other countries have changed our culture and language. Do you know the words pizza, spaghetti, taco, huevos, crepes, bon apetit, adios, amigo, slainte, merci, etc? Are those additions to our language in any way threatening?
We all want clean air, potable water, a viable job market, economic growth. These things are not exclusive. At one time we knew that. Conservatives like Nixon championed these causes that the media would now have us believe are the realms of one party/ideology exclusively.
This trust in your fellow citizens is a prerequisite of item #1 above.
4) Accept that might does not make right. We cannot solve every international disagreement militarily, even though we may have the power to do so. By forcing our views on the world, we are growing the next generation of enemies. Are there truly evil foes that can only be defeated by military force? Yes, and our history shows we will shed our blood in just causes. However, our history also shows that the American public will tire and eventually resist conflicts that are unjust or untenable. We need to get better at discerning between the two, when the drums of war begin beating, rather than having to admit that we were wrong, after killing thousands (and losing thousands of our younger generation), in the process.
5) Read, understand and protect the Constitution of the United States. Accept that certain principles were included in it for our own good, even if you don’t like them. Separation of church and state, for instance, is a great idea. It was included in the Constitution because of the repeated civil wars in England. Those wars were fought over different ideologies of a single religion, namely Christianity, but were actually fought to grab political power (as most wars are). Want your child to be able to pray as part of a school function? Accept that if this is allowed, the prayers of every other religion would also have to be allowed, including some you may find reprehensible. (see how the Satanic Church is being allowed to hand out booklets of their religious beliefs, just because a school district allowed Christians to distribute Bibles on campus) Yes, America was primarily founded by Christians (and some atheist/agnostics that might surprise you). It was also founded by slave owners, and those that believed women should not work outside the home, and that women, or those who don’t own real estate, should not vote. At least they were smart enough to realize no religion should be established by the government. We should not deify the founders of our country. We should understand them, warts and all. Sometimes, understanding a person’s shortcomings helps us to marvel at their successes.
In summary, we have a wonderful country that is under attack from within. We alone can protect it and ensure it continues as a beacon of hope, well into the future. In fact, it’s our duty to do so.