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.