Many of us are not happy with the performance of our government. The U.S. Congress is currently held in low esteem. Promises are made but not kept. Problems are unsolved. But, in American democracy, the ultimate responsibility and final authority belong to you and me. We cannot rely on campaign slogans. We must pose important questions for elected officials and candidates for office and demand responsible answers. Then, we must ensure that those responsible solutions are implemented. Our large and complex society produces a lot of problems and issues that need to be addressed.
The vast amount of money required to run for public office imposes a serious challenge for a person who wants to be a conscientious public servant. The funding requirement obligates politicians to their financiers. The process threatens to wreck American democracy. Congressman Israel, a New York member of the U.S. House of Representatives who quit the job this year, acknowledges that he has raised 20 million dollars during his 16 years in congress. That’s 24 thousand dollars a week, every week, for 16 years. Is that what we want our congressional representatives to do? Observers say that members of congress now typically spend three days each week raising funds. That doesn’t leave much time for the nation’s business. We want a politician to owe his or her allegiance to constituents, not financiers. We need to ask every member or potential member of the U.S. Congress: How are you going to solve this unreasonable requirement to raise vast amounts of money to serve in public office?
Credit cards sure are easy to use. Paying the debt incurred is not so easy. During 40 of the past 44 years, the U.S. Government spent more than it received in tax revenue. The result is a national debt of about 19 trillion dollars. If the mayor of your town spent a million dollars a day, it would take him or her 2737 years to burn through a trillion dollars. The first step in getting this national debt under control is to balance the annual budget: spend no more than the tax revenue received. Ask your congress person or candidates this question: What government services would you eliminate or which taxes would you increase to balance the federal budget?
More than 40 years ago, the U.S. Government launched a “war on drugs.” It sounded like a good idea, but it wasn’t. It has produced crime, untreated addiction, and huge expense for anti-drug enforcement and prison operation but has not eliminated the use of illegal drugs or diversion of prescription drugs. It has produced too many long prison sentences leaving single parent families and ex-felons who cannot find jobs. It has facilitated a crime wave in Mexico among competing drug cartels. It has caused an inordinate police focus on minority communities in the U.S. which, among other things, is inflaming racial tensions. Ask political candidates this question: What are you going to do to correct this failed anti-drug program, and when are you going to do it?
World War II ended 71 years ago. European countries are fully capable of financing their own defense. They can design and built technically advanced defense systems, or they can buy military equipment from the U.S. At an earlier time, the U.S. had a vital interest in maintaining access to Middle Eastern oil. That is no longer necessary. If our allies need Middle Eastern oil, they can buy it. Middle Eastern oil producers need the revenue. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has always been primarily an American operation and expense. Our operations in the Middle East and North Africa are generating enduring anti-American animosity. It is time to let the Europeans have some of the fun—by accepting responsibility for their own defense. We need to ask our political representatives: When are we going to shift this burden to the people who should be shouldering the burden?
Racial discord is brewing in the United States, and it is the last thing we need. Discriminatory practices include a range of issues, but the most immediate and critical issues are police conduct and judicial sentencing. We must ask our candidates for office: What legislation are you going to write to ensure “justice for all”?
Immigration is an issue that has been around for a long time, and it has produced many twists and turns. Three problems stand out. Who warrants legal admission status? How do we control entry to the United States? How should we treat immigrants who are here, illegally, some of whom have children who were born in the United States? It is time to demand answers from our legislators. What legislation will you write to clarify our immigration issues?
Electronic collection of our personal information is difficult to address. Secret collection of information has traditionally required a court order for a specific person and specific type of surveillance. Currently, personal information is collected from an enormous and growing number of sources. It is collected by private corporations. It is collected by government. If we are human, it will eventually be misused. There is an urgent need to construct laws and amend the constitution, if necessary, to prevent misuse of personal data. Put the question to the candidates for congressional office: How are you going to solve this problem?
Few things are more important to us than jobs. You will find it very difficult to find any manufactured article in an American retail store that was made in America. That represents millions of manufacturing jobs that were sourced to foreign countries where wages were so low they were tantamount to slavery. Ask your candidates: What will you do to rectify this situation?
Most of us will not leave our children substantial financial assets. But we could leave a functioning government and a peaceful society. In a world full of chaos and conflict, that would be a pretty good inheritance.
Jack Stevenson is now retired from military service. He served two years in Vietnam as an infantry officer and worked three years as a U.S. Civil Service employee. He also worked in Egypt as an employee of the former Radio Corporation of America (RCA).