This November, we, the people of the United States, get to choose who it is we believe should take our country forward. Do we shift gears now, or stay the course and give the current recovery plan time to work? We have witnessed many disturbing events over the last decade and now, having just dodged a head-on with the economic equivalent of a drunk driver, here we are on the side of the road, shaking, and a little fired up with road rage. Somehow we’ve wound up losing our savings, our jobs, and many of our freedoms. It’s been a bad trip from the start. A lot of “not-so-good” choices have been made over the last few years.
The Patriot Act was established in 2001 and though it largely ignored constitutional liberties, it was reauthorized in 2005. Whistle blowers working in Ft Gordon came forward to report that U.S. citizens and soldiers talking to other U.S. citizens were being eavesdropped on, but the Act remained in place. In fact, the tremendous loss of freedoms has continued into 2010. U.S. citizens can be wiretapped, stopped on the street and asked to produce ID without obvious cause, or deemed an enemy combatant (which may subject you to torture). The U.S. Supreme Court has weakened laws protecting citizens from search and seizure without a warrant, and if you admit to being a homosexual, you can still be removed from military service, regardless of what you have accomplished in service of your country.
We’ve seen over 4000 lives and hundreds of billions of dollars vanish in Iraq, and yet we may be no safer from terrorism. It’s quite possible we’ve only managed to create more enemies. We’ve freed Iran’s extremist government to focus on the U.S. instead of the long, costly war they had been engaged in with Saddam Hussein. The war has also benefited anti-western terror groups around the world who were rewarded with a boost to their recruiting efforts. Looking back, we’ve paid a heavy price for the decision to go to war in Iraq, and the benefits are difficult to find. It was a bad decision.
What other bad decisions have we seen over the last few years? The loosening of regulations and oversight with respect to corporate America was a definite step in the wrong direction. In this decade of big business/government coziness we’ve suffered through an alarming run of corporate scandals by companies that included Enron, AOL Time Warner, Adelphia Communications, Arthur Anderson, Bristol –Myers Squibb, Duke Energy, Halliburton, Tyco, and WorldCom, to name a few. The recent oil rig disaster in the Gulf is another example of the damage lax corporate regulation has fostered. It’s no surprise that many individual investors have become reluctant to invest in corporate America. Also, in the last year, a conservative Supreme Court ruled that corporations can now act as though they were simply wealthy individuals, free to purchase ads the favor the company board’s preferred candidates, or attack their perceived opponents. These same corporations that are trying to tell us whom we should vote for, are the same ones that have relocated jobs overseas and reduced U.S. worker benefits, even while scoring record profits in some cases. Others, particularly the investment banks, are responsible for the dubious investment instruments they created which ultimately put the world economy in jeopardy.
Throughout this decade health care costs have skyrocketed, billions have been spent on wars, and climate-change-related technology has been side-lined (allowing other countries to gain leadership positions in areas like batteries and solar cell technology). What were our politicians doing during this time? Unfortunately, many were taking lobbyist money, and making new friends in the corporate world. They were paying little real attention to their constituents.
When hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans it hammered home the fact that our leadership was out-of-touch and failing to meet problems head-on. The pictures we witnessed of that disaster made us sad. A proud city within the borders of our great country was now filled with desperate people resembling those of a poor developing country. Elected leaders pointed fingers and made excuses.
So here we are, 10 years later, on the side of the road. Where do we go from here? Some say big government is the issue, but was it big government that created the situation we now face, or is that a distraction? We know we need jobs. We need an economy that recovers and eventually brings those jobs. Because threats do not all come from across our borders, we need regulation that discourages corporate greed, looks out for our right to know what our investments consist of, or what’s in our food. We need inspectors that watch over our food supply, be it threats from terrorists, oil spills, or salmonella outbreaks brought about by careless business operations. We need quality education for all children, so our nation can maintain its competitiveness in the world. We need these things to help us get back to the business of being a productive, respected nation.
When we go to the polls in November, we should consider this long, rough trip we’ve been on, then maybe we should consider what it is we really want from our elected leaders. What are the important issues? Are socialists, gays, and big government real problems facing the country, or distractions? Shouldn’t we focus on re-invigorating our economy and bringing jobs back? Corporations and their candidates have increasingly had their say over the last few years , but do their preferences always reflect what is best for the U.S.? I don’t think so. The U.S. is a capitalist country but it is first and foremost a democracy, and it should never be handed over to the corporate captains to run as they please. We took a big turn in November of 2008, hoping for better. Things have been slow to change since then, and the road is still uphill, but we’re no longer depression-bound, and job losses have eased. Should we stay the course, or go backward? In the voting booth, we’ll have to choose between “D” and “R”. It’s beginning to seem like Drive and Reverse. “D” will take us forward, and “R” will take us backward, to the road we’ve already been down. I suggest we drive on.