Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Love is Action

In this election year we will hear much of the candidate's love for America and all her people. Hillary Clinton's New Hampshire tears, Barak Obama's eloquent appeals for a new way forward, John McCain's constant reminders of his military service and Mitt Romney's apple pie appeals all speak of their love for the USA. Such rhetoric and sentiments are good, but real love - the love that compassionately puts others first and sacrificially looks to the next generation's good - only counts if there is ACTION. 
I have yet to hear a single policy proposal from any Democratic candidate. I hear what needs to be fixed and I hear vague comments on health care, taxes and war, but there is nothing concrete except visceral hatred for the current President or philosophical platitudes. No one is willing to confront the tough issues of how we pay for our promises and the administrative incapacities of an over-bloated federal government. An ancient writer once encouraged his readers, "...[L]et us not love in word or tongue, but in deed and truth." In other words, what we DO proves the genuineness of our love. 
On the Republican side, I hear more policy substance, but it is still disjointed and needs cohesion and inspiration. Aggressive pursuit of terrorists, lower taxes and immigration reform must be balanced by clear goals, spending restraints and secure borders. There must be new, creative private/public partnerships to rebuild our physical and governmental infrastructure. We need to decentralize and re-empower state and local governments to deliver services in more efficient and humane fashion than Washington. 
Both sides must appeal to the personal responsibilities and virtues that are incumbent upon all citizens of a free society. The paradox of liberty is the self-discipline it demands!
Over three hundred years ago, there was a great debate over the nature of freedom and the role of government. This debate provided some of the principles our Founders affirmed as they created the American Constitution. 
One one side stood Thomas Hobbes, author the famous work, Leviathan and a cynic about human freedom. He believed that humankind needed the firm hand of a strong, controlling, monarchical government. Left to themselves, people were basically animals and needed taming!
On the other side was John Locke, the father of liberty, who believed that the government's primary job was to protect the natural rights of all citizens to life, liberty and property. This is not libertarianism, for Locke affirmed the necessity of personal virtue and the moral foundations of law. 
Our Founders leaned toward Locke, but Hobbes has always been in the background! 
Love is action - wise, practical service for the common good. One of the great actions our federal government could pursue is divesting itself of so much administrative duty and refocusing on creating the conditions that maximize freedom and opportunity, while holding those in power accountable to the virtues that make us great. 
Love means health care for all - but not a single-payer program run by a new generation of middle-class bureaucrats who majored in government in college.
Love means excellent education for all - administered locally to standards determined by states in line with overall principles that prepare our children for 21st century life. This is education in partnership with families, not in place of them.
Love means welcoming immigrants - legally and safely - and making sure the English language and American citizenship is in view for those who wish to live here permanently and reap the benefits of our freedoms.

Love means caring for the most vulnerable - from conception to coronation - by welcoming children and giving dignity to the dying instead of destroying life in the birth canal and suggesting that people have a duty to die.

Love means receiving life as a gift and not playing God with the elements of life. Love means healing disease without trying to clone perfection.

Love means confronting terrorism with moral rectitude and social justice as well as military power and political strategies.

Love means mentoring a new generation in its stewardship of resources - not with a mindset of fear and scarcity, but one of abundance and wisdom. There are enough resources for everyone to live well, if we decide that the welfare of all is a worthy goal.

Love means a return to the "first principles" of life and liberty rooted in truth and virtue. Unrestrained license or theocratic totalitarianism are not options for free people!

Hopefully one or more of our candidates will present a vision that calls for love in action. Let's demand deeds along with declarations, works along with words. Only then can the great potential of our nation be realized. 

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Audacity of Honesty

It is election season! Oh my, the promises that are being made and the visions that are being cast - it is all about CHANGE! We can change America, we can heal the world! We can bring back jobs, find Osama bin Laden, stimulate the economy, provide health care for all and balance the budget! "A vote for me is a vote for change! I will clean up Washington. I will expose pork-barrel spenders. I will fix Social Security. I will...I will..."

The 2008 election is the first one since 1952 to have no former President or Vice-President running. It is wide open and the exaggerations, hyperbole, image-making and remaking and outright lying has begun.

For the Democrats, we have a fresh-faced idealist promising change and offering no actual proposals for how it would happen. We have an angry senator opposing him with "experience" but no real policy proposals. On the other side we have some pragmatists with the beginnings of policy but little charisma and populists with no explanation of how their competing ideas work together.

None of this is new. Politicians tell us what we want to hear and hope we will elect them by conviction ("I like her/him!) or default ("Well, the opponent is worse!").

What makes 2008 different is the sum of serious issues that must be confronted and the need to present a compelling, positive vision of the future. We found out in 1980 that we do not want a schoolmaster telling us about "malaise". We want to hear again that it is "morning in America" and "our best days are ahead."

Here are the daunting tasks the future President and Congress must confront:
  • Continuing the war on terror in a way that keeps the USA from being an occupying power while being able to hit targets quickly and effectively.
  • Balancing the budget so the dollar is strengthened and we can have some authority in negotiating fair trade policies with other nations.
  • Honestly confronting the reality that Social Security is a shell game and a new solution for future retirees is needed.
  • Developing a humane and strong immigration policy that secures the borders, reduces crime and places all potential residents on an equal footing.
  • Creating environmental policies that do not cripple our economy and subject us to world standards that others manage to skirt.
  • Rebuilding the infrastructure created in the 1930s to 1950s through private/public partnerships. Our bridges, dams, levees, and roads all need attention. 
  • Decentralizing as many services as possible by remembering the 9th and 10th Amendments and reinvigorating local and state government. Not every solution has to come through Washington - especially when it involves education, social services and business stimulation!
  • Rediscovering our moral and spiritual center without secular or theocratic ideology muddying the waters. A virtuous citizenry is a free citizenry. Moral ambiguity produces self-centered people who feel they are owed something. Abortion, health care, education and retirement are important things, but they are not "inalienable rights."
As the campaigning continues, listen to the actual policies and see if any candidates are willing to confront this combination of issues head-on. 

We need inspiration, but it in going to take principled perspiration to move forward to a better future.