I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America.
President Barack Obama, Victory Speech, 7 November 2012
Is Obama right? I’m convinced that he is and have supported his position many times and in many ways with respect to my focus on global competitiveness and how best to accelerate and to improve the American innovation ecosystem. But such activities to enhance our competitive advantage do not take place in a vacuum and are inextricably a part of the warp and woof of the overall American experience and the polarized political climate that we are now experiencing. Neglecting that condition is not a prescription for success.
So how divided are we? Is there no room to clarify and to redefine in more suitable language a contextual framework for compromise based on principles that most of us agree upon across the political spectrum? And just what are those principles?
It’s not rocket science to find the principles by our founding fathers! I begin with the Declaration of Independence.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
The Declaration further proclaims the need to create government and a system to secure these rights, or stated in more modern terms, government has a responsible role to play in our lives. That need led eventually to the adoption of the Constitution of the United States whose famous preamble clearly states why we have a United States of America.
We, the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
That sounds like six straightforward principles to me. But then, how is it that our Supreme Court determined that a company is a person? And exactly when does “personhood” begin for a human being? Should society condone equality in marriage as well as equal pay? And when and for whom does taxation become a burden?
These are just a few of the troubling questions facing modern society and therein lies the rub with the principles of our founding fathers. Each of us views the world through a different set of filters and each of us approaches and interprets these principles in a different manner. It’s the individualism that characterizes the best of America.
But I’m an optimist! Americans have always had the ability to come together as a community in common cause for the greater good. And even in the face of a presumably divided electorate, I believe that it is possible to set forth a collection of practical principles that most Americans can accept – principles that we can use to govern ourselves. Here is my attempt to establish some working principles.
Fiscal policy, budgets, and the tax code must be responsible, fair, and balanced with respect to revenue and spending. Obstructionism in Congress must be replaced by flexibility and compromise in order to avoid a fiscal cliff and to reduce the deficit. We must all understand that “cutting spending and waste” are just code words for the right wing social agenda and the Tea Party trap of no government through austerity, even though cutting unnecessary spending and eliminating waste are good things to do on the whole.
Social policy should focus on providing a caring safety net whether for the poor, the elderly, the unemployed, or any other disadvantaged American. Religious beliefs, no matter how strongly held, are not a basis for public policy nor a reason to restrict access to needed services. The culture war must end. Old-fashioned libertarianism, which focuses on individual freedom, should be the rule until the public weal, as clearly laid out by the principles in the preamble to the Constitution, kicks in. Modern civilization requires that we have a functioning and protected middle class free to live as they please within the broadly set limits of the Constitution. Without a middle class, there will not be a vibrant economy or consumers ready to snatch up the latest innovative gadget.
Effective, efficient, and responsible regulation of business, commerce, insurance, banking and finance, the environment, and healthcare is essential to protecting our individual rights as well as the common good. Public policy and actions must be based on testable facts and known truths. Disinformation to distort those truths or denial of proven facts must be exposed for the fraud that they are. Evolution and human-driven global climate change are real. And yes, there really are verifiable economic facts. Reducing taxes for the top one percent doesn’t produce jobs.
The new reality – which actually is an old reality – is that America is a multi-cultural, plural society rapidly becoming a so-called majority-minority community and we must govern accordingly. Or as Bill O’Reilly put it, we no longer have the traditional America. Or as others have said, “it’s not Reagan’s America anymore.” What they really mean is that the good ole white boys don’t rule the roost anymore. Folks, it’s time to stop the extreme right wing war on [fill in the blank with women, gays, blacks, latinos, intellectuals, teachers, the 47%, unions, the middle class, …]. Hate and toxic language must be marginalized and ignored. We are not a nation of communists and sluts as some would have us believe. Instead, we are a nation of value-added immigrants to the New World and their descendants who have built the United States of America! And yes, we need for the Republican Party to revitalize itself as the voice of true conservatism, not the voice of a discredited “too old, too white, too male, and too wrong.”
Nation building here in America must be the gold standard, not overseas military adventurism. America faces many internal challenges in the Twenty-first century including energy independence through alternative and clean energy sources, a revitalization of our decaying civil infrastructure, and insourcing of jobs. Solving these challenges requires investment, not austerity. It requires innovation, technology commercialization, entreprenuership, and all the many activities that I’ve long supported and advocated for. But most especially, it requires a new commitment to invest in our nation’s educational system.
Is America ready to seize the future? The re-election of Barack Obama as President is a step in that direction and a rejection and repudiation of the truly nutty stuff we’ve been subjected to over the past few years. But as I listen to Mitch McConnell and John Boehner following the election, it’s clear to me that they still just don’t get it. The age of the “good ole white boys” that I grew up with in North Carolina really isn’t over yet.
[Photo source: Spencer Platt/Getty Images North America]