Thursday, October 18, 2012

Election 2012

The importance of exercising your democratic responsibility to vote this November 6 cannot be understated, but you also have my sympathy for how increasingly broken our public institutions are becoming. A President, a congressman, or any other elected official alone cannot begin to repair problems that have been decades in the making, and largely out of their legal control anyway. The political process needs reform, no doubt, but we also need large cultural shifts to make America the nation it could (and should) be.

It may surprise you to learn that I am not going to be overtly endorsing any candidates in this post. That is because it is more important for me to get you thinking outside the (ballot) box. I trust you to vote with considerable deliberation, and I’m confident that we share respect for each other’s beliefs.

It surprises me to reflect that I have probably worked (been employed in the traditional sense) more consistently under Republican administrations than under Democratic leadership in the White House. I also find I have far more anxiety over our nation’s foreign and environmental policies under Republican leadership. Still, I think that most economic prosperity has little to do with legislation. As a consumer, I certainly appreciate regulations that protect me from contaminants in my water and food, and pollutants in the air that I breathe. Since I greatly value wildlife, I appreciate the maintenance of existing parks and refuges, and the creation of more. My creative side applauds all financial support of the arts, and innovations in sustainable energy and agriculture. I am grateful that I am in good health, and fall under my wife’s insurance coverage, but I have close friends who are not so fortunate. They have pre-existing conditions that until “Obama-care” prevented them from being properly insured. This issue alone is fodder for another post, so I will stop there.

Three cultural conditions exist right now that do trouble me. They are: Wasteful consumerism, the blurring of boundaries between church and state, and the worship of Wall Street.

The average middle class household doesn’t take home the income it used to. That is an undisputed fact, when one adjusts for inflation and looks back at our historical wage-earning power. Unfortunately, we are also more irresponsible than ever in how we choose to spend that income. One may even argue that there really isn’t even a middle class at all anymore, because much of what we purchase we go into debt to pay for. We aren’t “keeping up with the Joneses,” we’re burying ourselves under credit cards. I wonder how much tax reform, wage reform, and opposition to unions there would be if everyone only spent what they actually had. It would become instantly obvious how much of a gap there is between the rich and the poor. “We can’t redistribute wealth!” you say. What do you think Wall Street does?

Ah, yes, the stock market: Legalized gambling at its finest, for only the highest of high rollers. It is the engine that redistributes wealth to those who already have enough disposable income to invest. Wait, I’m sorry, many corporations also robbed retirement accounts to continue their illusion of profitability. Employees, consumers, and all too often the environment, suffer to appease the almighty shareholder. This is the one institution that needs reform above all others.

Lastly, we are experiencing a resurgence of Christian fundamentalists attempting to impose their values on all citizens through legislation and funding (or de-funding) avenues. The problem is that, for better or for worse, our constitution and Bill of Rights guarantee us the freedom to sin. Not that we should, of course, and not to say there are no consequences for our sins in terms of prosecution and incarceration to name just two, but it is pretty explicitly protected. Some misguided folks might equate that freedom with “pursuit of happiness,” but I wouldn’t go that far. I am sorry that “God” and religion have become synonymous, though, because the higher power I believe in is far more inclusive and tolerant than many of “His” Christian believers.

There you have it, my two cents with room to expand in later posts. What do you think? Do we achieve most of our personal and collective success in spite of government intervention? Are we too rigid in our adherence to current government revenue streams (taxes)? How do we overcome the grandiose expectations we have of both government and the marketplace? We need to begin a dialogue, not another debate, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.