We are a great country and we should be governed as a great country (Olympia Snow).
With all the tweeted one-liners and on the spot reactions to the ‘breaking news’ of the day grabbing attention, how refreshing is it to hear a new generation politician speak for over an hour, impromptu, in a coherent, erudite, never faltering, fashion about the real issues of our time. This happened on June 2017 when Tyler Cowen, author and Economics Professor at George Mason University, interviewed Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska in front of a public audience. Senator Sasse has been attracting attention recently because of his book “the Vanishing American adult” and the publicity that comes with it. Also, because of a range of provocative−in a positive sense−mind challenging speeches on and off the floor of the US Senate. This interview was not the run of the mill, morning show, three-minute segment, squeezed between two commercials, but a probing, wide ranging, inquest into Ben Sasse’s views on what ails this nation and what to do about it. Senator Sasse’s answers did not come in the form of a carefully scripted speech read from a teleprompter. He gave real-time, unrehearsed, response to tough questions from a highly competent interlocutor. Absent in this interview is any gratuitous commentary on the current political reality. It is all forward looking, representing ‘the long view’. You can find the interview here https://medium.com/conversations-with-tyler/ben-sasse-tyler-cowen-book-twitter-trump-cb5b4a435323 If you missed it, it is worth retrieving. It represents a rare−and hope giving−event in our current dispiriting political scene.
If you have the interest of the nation at heart, nothing can be gained by remaining pre-occupied by the daily theatrics of the main players on the political stage, as attention grabbing and addictive that may be. We need to do what Senator Sasse does so well in this interview: focus on the future and start looking for solutions to the serious problems that beset the nation. That is what I set out to do in my book “NEITHER HERE NOR THERE” written three years ago, but today even more relevant than it was when it was published. In it, I pleaded for a constitutional amendment, requiring from the President and the leadership in Congress to establish a national strategy. Without a long-term plan, there is no expected outcome and it is, therefore, not surprising that, for decades now, all that comes out of Washington DC is regulation and short-term policy. Note that recent administrations have declared “war” on a number of national challenges—like the war on poverty, the war on drugs and the war on terror—but they have not bothered to rally the nation behind any particular national objective. And thus, these wars fester on without ever achieving a strategic objective.
Without a doubt, the growing inequality between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ in today’s American society is at the root of all the discontent and dysfunction we encounter and are confronted with daily, courtesy of our social media and cable TV. It has also produced the current White House and ‘leadership’ in Congress. Inequality manifests itself everywhere it matters: in income, in wealth, in the workplace, in education, in healthcare, in housing, in criminal justice, in sports and recreation. The best in all of these areas is reserved for an ever-shrinking proportion of our population. And the worst is never experienced by these happy few, but is the daily reality of the ever-growing lower tier Americans. Yet, where is the first serious attempt, in the White House or the Congress, to acknowledge the problem, declare this injustice as un-American, and come up with a strategy to turn it around?
Our political system, as it operates today, is no longer capable of coming up with broad initiatives that can remediate the problems we encounter. It is not even coming up for discussion, in large part because there is no open policy debate between the parties. And, even if there was such debate, there would be no money to fund broad initiatives, as the political reality only permits tax cuts, ruling out tax increases of any kind for any purpose. We may not be a failing state but we certainly experience governance failure.
The best hope we can have is that this too will pass and that we will survive this epoch of mismanagement. That is not a given. Our adversaries sense our weakness and may pounce on us at any time, or, more likely trap us into reckless reaction to their provocations so that we may defeat ourselves.
The long view does not develop overnight. It needs to be debated by the best minds in the public and private domain. It needs to be incubated, challenged, nurtured, articulated and communicated. That is what people like Senator Ben Sasse are good at. This work needs, by necessity, now be done outside of the realm of the federal government at any available public forum and in a bi-partisan fashion. And, if and when a national strategy emerges from this long, arduous work, then it is time for politicians like Senator Sasse to stand up and run for office on that platform.
This country deserves better governance than it has been settling for over the last decades. It will only get the governance it deserves, if it accepts the discipline of taking a serious, long, view of where the nation should be heading and crafts a plan on how to get there.