Congress and the presidency are now broken systems, and great change must come if the nation is to survive. Otherwise, the road traveled by ancient Rome in its decline -- high debt, reduced revenue, war distractions -- will be a metaphor for the U.S. The fall will be catastrophic.
History tells us how we got here, and it dates from 1918, the end of “The War to End All Wars.” In the rush to “normalcy,” American inventiveness and manufacturing began to produce consumer goods like refrigerators, toasters and radios. Enterprising marketers came up with the time-payment plan to help a rising consumer class buy these goodies on the cuff. It was the beginning of purchasing beyond one’s means. Price inflation ensued, and the greed of the moment extended to margin buying in the stock market. On Oct. 29, 1929, the first day of the Great Depression, over-priced, unsecured stocks, frenzied purchase and high personal debt all proved to be the loose mortar of the new American economy.
In the Depression, Americans pulled pack to the lowered expectation of just a few decades before and survived with the novelty of major government spending until the defense jobs of World War II added more national debt but also personal income. The end of conflict saw the U.S. on top of the world economically since the Axis was destroyed and, among the Allies, we were the only country in good shape. We ruled the universe in our post-war manufacturing and innovative product development. But our 1920s’ habit resurfaced -- a huge and steady regrowth of consumer installment-plan buying and a “must-have” attitude. In the largess, government also expanded, largely through social programs as we marched through the 1960s. We flexed muscle internationally in the deadly and expensive, misdirected, confusing Vietnam War, and the continuing Cold War added to American debt as well. But we were still tops economically, and despite recessions, we thought our system highly resilient. What the ordinary citizen did not realize is that concurrent with our growing desire for more material goods, special-interest groups that could get the ear of presidents and congresses were becoming stronger and stronger. Not the least of these was the military/industrial complex that Dwight Eisenhower, our American general and president, warned would become deeply imbedded. Every undeclared war since has had its strings pulled in part by this special interest. Now there are also lobbies that protect big financiers, huge manufacturers, oil companies and corporate-owned farming, etc. There are lobbies for political belief, for religion, for social causes. Special-interest groups for plausible reason and for sinister action.
By the time we got to 2000, lobbies of all sorts were so entrenched that government, which by then was so big and so involved in individual lives, marched largely to special-interest direction. Today, with the awful and real worries about world terrorism; the polarization of government philosophy between heavy and active involvement (investment spending) and deficit reduction at any cost; and the great isolation from the reality of ordinary people’s lives that is both Congress and the presidency, we see special interests taking advantage at every turn. No decision is made without these lobbies. They fund expensive re-election campaigns, provide jobs for former officials and hold the keys to House and Senate committee doors. They are, despite some legitimate aims, largely a cancer on the nation, for they interfere with the legislative, executive and judicial branches. They affect the checks and balances of our democratic system. Government is ever so remote from the people.
End special interests
Until American campaigns are fully publicly funded, with no lobby money allowed, until the concerns of any special-interest group are heard not through the wallet but in open public hearing alone (to protect freedom of speech), U.S. leaders will hear no other voices. The congressional system is corrupted, as are state legislatures. So, if the nation is not to fall as Rome did in its own greed, special interests must end.
As for the presidency, the last time you see a living, breathing White House leader is when he is elected. On the stump, the candidate appears like the people, able to digest their fears, their needs, their hopes. He talks the language. Once elected, as has happened with Obama, the great collection of advisers (read special interests here, too) and the security apparatus isolate the man. Who has his ear? Not Joe and Sue USA.
We, the people, who have allowed the growth of special interests, who have permitted our remote presidency, have, over the past four decades, enabled special interests to end kill U.S. jobs by sending them overseas. This we have done by (1) not insisting on government reinvestment in competitive industry, like steel; (2) by over-regulating business; (3) by making consumerism, principally the buying of goods financed by debt (home equity, credit cards) our basic economic engine. Now, in tough times, as on Oct. 29, 1929, that house of cards is falling part.
How do we rescue America?
- We end special interests. We ask our elected officials to serve by conscience and principle alone.
- We add a “people’s cabinet member,” an ordinary Sue or Joe America who serves a few months and has the ear of the chief executive on “real” concerns. Then a new American is appointed.
- We, the nation, creates jobs, jobs, jobs -- in emerging technology, mainly, where we can again become world employment leaders.
- The very wealthy “loan” us the money to create jobs and also outright invest in America. They have the funds, and you know what? They will be repaid handsomely in renewed economic activity as consumerism “trickles UP,” not down (as it rarely has).
- We, the nation, decide what sort of health care, pension system and social service network a progressive world leader must have, and we work with private industry to fund it, not government, make it a profitable enterprise, but with greed controls.
- We end unfunded mandates and micromanaging of education and housing while enforcing agreed-upon quality and humanitarian standards.
- We the people cut back our own expectations. Do we need McMansions? Super-sized cars? Vacation homes? Or should we live within means, growing the economy, yes, but within reason? And paying as we go, perhaps helping others in need, too?
.• We decide what wars will be fought and who else in the world will fight them with us. No more unilateral U.S. action.
America is a gift from God. Its shaky beginning has endured, and we have helped save the world from inhumanity. This experiment must not end, must not go down in flames. We must take action.