I admit it: I don’t trust our political system. And from reading around the blogosphere, I’m not the only one. And somehow, Winston Churchill’s old mantra doesn’t help anymore; I can’t make the boogeyman go away by endlessly repeating, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.”
That’s like going to a sporting event and cheering, “We suck less! We suck less!” It may be true, but it doesn’t do anything to help lift your spirits up.
Maybe the American political system has never been trustworthy. Maybe it’s always been this cesspool of high-minded rhetoric crossed with venal self-service, a stew of money and influence-peddling and scandal and control. The more I dig into our country’s history, the more I find that there never really was a time in our politics that could be objectively categorized as “the good old days.”
I’m not the only one; the blogosphere is full of people who will tell you all about what’s wrong with each part of our system. My challenge is — what are we going to do about it?
Thanks to the An Army of Davids effect (and whatever else you might think about Instapundit, his book is spot on the money), we don’t have to content ourselves with whittling away at the system any longer. Corporate money and “business as usual” politics have our two-party system sewn up tight. We can keep investing our energy to gain modest accomplishments or we can refuse to play the game the way it has always been played.
Don’t get me wrong; I think efforts like Porkbusters are incredibly important and need to continue, especially now that they’re having a visible effect. But when your opponent knows the battle ground better than you do, when he has had time to prepare it for the style of battle he prefers, it is suicide to march on the field in the manner he’s expecting. The voice of political reform is fighting a reactive battle, and you don’t win battles by giving away the initiative.
So what do I suggest? Glad you asked. How many of you have heard of One Red Paperclip? Using nothing more than an imaginative hook, a blog, and one red paperclip, Kyle MacDonald traded his way from a single bit of bent colored wire to a house. That’s right. A paperclip to an honest-to-goodness house. 14 trades, 365 days. One guy…plus a bunch of readers, and 13 or so people who said, “Hey, I can help that dream.”
Why can’t we do something like this, starting today, and completely transform the political landscape between now and Election Day? We may not have time for any serious changes between now and November 2006…but then again, we might. And we’ve got over two years until November 2008. That’s an eternity on the Internet.
I’ll go first. I’m the last person you’d want to be President of the United States; I don’t even really *want* to be President. I have trouble balancing my checkbook. I didn’t finish college. My military career was short and unexceptional, to the point of eliciting wonder that I made it out with a General discharge. I’m out of shape and something of a slob, although my wife says I clean up well. I’m not the most diplomatic of persons. And yet I think I’d be a better President or Congressman than most of the candidates we have to pick from today. Why is that?
- I have no obligations to a political party. I’m not bought and sold.
- I’m a natural-born citizen and will be 35 in 2007.
- When I screw up, I’ll admit it. No one’s perfect, and I won’t pretend to be.
- I don’t think I’m all that and a bag of chips. I have no family money to live up to, or some prestigious college reputation following me around.
- I don’t want the fame or care about getting re-elected. Holding office should be a vocation, a sacred trust. Anyone who actually wants to get to the White House should be subject to a battery of psychiatric exams.
- I’m not afraid to have people dislike me. The corollary is that I’m not afraid to tell you what I think:
- Abortion: I would fight against any further weakening of Roe vs. Wade. On the other hand, I think that abortion advocates dramatically underplay the lingering psychological and emotional effects that abortion can have on a woman. I don’t agree that abortion is first and foremost about a woman’s right to control her body, because what she does with her body can have serious implications on the guy she slept with years down the road. There is a serious disconnect between the woman’s right to choose and the man’s responsibility to provide for his offspring, and it ain’t right to put all of the power on the woman. That said, taking away the option of legal abortions isn’t going to make the problem any better; it’s just going to increase all sorts of problems. This isn’t an instant-fix problem, and it’s going to take years of re-teaching the American public how to take responsibility for their own actions before we can come anywhere close to consensus.
- Gay marriage: I’m in favor of it. Well, sort of. What I’m really in favor of is scrapping our current marriage system entirely and setting up a civil partnership, much like current business partnerships. Depending on which state you’re in, it can be harder to get out of a business partnership than it is a marriage. It certainly takes more effort to get into a business partnership, which I think is a good thing. Things like healthccare benefits, inheritence, etc. following the civil partnership. Leave the religious aspects to each church to decide; they’re quite capable of deciding whom to bestow the scacrament of marriage on. Again, this is a situation that will only be solved over the course of years, through careful, prudent, and reasoned legislation. The current atmosphere of marches and litigation aren’t doing the cause of gay marriage any good at all. Oh, and “defending marriage” is a crock of shit. If Aaron and Bob get married and stay together for the rest of their lives, that’s more respectful of the institution of marriage than when Alice and Bob get married, divorced, and leave a broken home.
- Iraq and the War on Terror: Our intervention in Kuwait went to our heads, and if we’d steamrollered right on into Iraq back then and taken Hussein down, the world would be a different place today. Now, though, I don’t agree we should have gone into Iraq on the information we had. But we did, and now we have a moral obligation to help fix the resulting mess. I honestly don’t know at this moment what the best course of action is, but withdrawing the troops would be a craven, despicable act of moral turpitude. Like it or not, we’ve embedded ourselves into the power politics in the region, and running away will only allow that vacuum to be filled by something bigger and meaner — to an end we’ll all regret. Simple human nature, folks. We probably shouldn’t try to do it unilaterally, but at the same time, the U.N. is in no position to be tossing around stones. Based on their current track record and history of corruption, we’d be criminals to hand everything over to them.
- Freedom of the press: If the press is going to consciously stake the moral high ground of the watchdog of democracy, then it needs to bear responsibility for those actions. Leaking classified documents is treason, pure and simple, as is trafficking in classified documents.
- Education: the state of education in our nation is frightening. Public schools aren’t doing the trick, so why the hell is everyone so frightened of school vouchers? People don’t want to keep paying rising taxes for a system that is broken. Let’s not hold our kids — and our nation’s future — hostage while we screw around trying to figure out what the problem is. I don’t care about esoteric theories of market competition — I want our kids to be able to read and write and do math and be able to locate Europe on a world map before they get their high school degree. Hell, I want them to be able to do that before they leave 4th grade. The real problem? The TV. Parents, get off your asses and get involved with what your kids are doing for school. Go volunteer in their classrooms. Read their textbooks. Go to PTA and school board meetings. Figure out who the bad teachers are and get rid of them. You, parents, are responsible for your childrens’ education, and the school system is there to support you — not the other way around.
- Social Security: I have no clue. I suspect that if we could trim a healthy portion of fat out of the federal budget, things might look a bit different — but I’m not an economist. Federally run programs don’t perform nearly as well as private ventures, given the necessary levels of oversight and checks and balances, but on the other hand they’re not as risky (because of that same oversight). And the simple fact is that most people won’t save unless they have to. I’m not sure the government should be in the job of doing their saving for them…but I’m sure we can’t ignore such people when reality catches up to them.
- Tax code: needs a complete rewrite. The only people profiting from this mess are the lawyers and accountants. Now, lawyers have a right to make a living the same as the next guy, but let’s face it — even lawyers are scared of our tax code. It is damned near impossible for a person of average intelligence and education to figure out with any degree of certainty what their tax burden is — and don’t think that both political parties aren’t using that to their advantage. If you, Joe Citizen, can’t figure it out, you can’t tell when you’re being lied to about how much money the government has.
- Separation of church and state: The more involved with politics a religious organization gets, the more in danger of losing its tax-exempt status it should get. Period. No exceptions.
Thanks to the miracle of Google, that should ensure I never come close to getting elected to any position, even dog-catcher. But I’m the red paperclip. Somewhere out there, lots of people are better-qualified than I am. So please, link this post in your blogs and journals, and let’s find those people — the people who have the skills we need to be good leaders and who stand a real chance of getting elected.