Apr 122010

“You can’t handle the truth!” This emphatic, yet matter-of-fact declaration of Col. Nathan Jessup climaxed the intense courtroom questioning portrayed in A Few Good Men. It also seems to be the behind the scenes belief held by those we entrust with the future of our nation. In industry, the practice is known as “Mushroom Management” — where those in charge keep their minions in the dark and just feed them manure. In politics, it has another name: Standard Operating Procedure.

There are few things upon which our Congress can muster bipartisan support. They can’t get together on healthcare, and based upon recent events, even national security will likely be debated along party lines. Still struggling in the aftermath of the banking bailout, one might think that financial reform would be a good candidate, but no, our elected “representatives” can’t move on that ground either. How about a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Stevens? Okay, I’m joking, but seriously — maybe on jobs? No freaking way; good paying jobs run counter to corporate profitability. There is, of course, bipartisan support to maintain the big-money control of government; you’ll not be seeing any meaningful campaign finance reform or rules limiting the flow of politicians into the lucrative ranks of corporate lobbyists. But when it comes to actual policy making, both parties seem to agree on one thing — the best way forward is to NEVER TELL THE WHOLE TRUTH.

On this one topic, we have widespread bipartisan support. In fact, our national leaders have artfully divvied up positions and the related talking points to ensure that we mushrooms will continue to mold. The Republicans proudly proclaim the virtue of reduced taxes, deregulation and small government. The Democrats counter that social services are essential and therefore advocate for increased government programs. Both sides have their valid points, but neither side wants to come clean on the consequences of their actions. I personally would love it if we could keep adding services while simultaneously cutting taxes, but I’m not child. I no longer believe in Santa Claus; I know you can’t keep reducing government revenues while increasing spending; I resent being continually lied to, and I want Washington to understand that I CAN handle the truth!

The truth is that we can’t afford to stay on our current path. We’re presently headed into fiscal oblivion, and I don’t think anyone is going to like it there. We need our elected officials to start leveling with us about costs and benefits, and we need an open, unbiased dialog that will allow the American people to select priorities based on facts instead of half-truths.

Of course, getting our politicians to stop their continual maneuvering and turn instead to factual discussion won’t be easy. The facts are just not very election friendly. Nobody ever got elected running on a tax-increase platform, although Ross Perot did prove that Americans will respond when shown the facts. Unfortunately, tax increases are an essential part of what will be required to pull out of our national nose dive. Our present system allows nearly half of the population to escape without paying any income tax and is in dire need of reform. But only through open and honest dialog can we ensure that such tax reform is handled in an equitable fashion.

We will also need to need to address our entitlement programs, which will mean more people paying in larger amounts to Social Security and Medicare. It will also mean extending ages of eligibility, adjusting COLA increases, and reducing benefits for certain individuals. This is all very tough medicine. It’s going to have a negative impact on a large number of Americas, which is why no politician will engage in a serious effort to address the shortages. This is the year that Social Security finally goes upside down, but it’s also an election year. I’ll not be holding my breath waiting for the politician honest and courageous enough to champion this cause.

Maybe we can at least get Congress to be honest in discussing the federal budget. Even with the huge TARP bailout, more than half of federal spending for 2009 was for the military and health (26.5% plus 5.4% interest on debt for military and 20.1% for health). With slices of the pie this large, is intuitively obvious to even the most casual observer that these areas must be addressed.

There may be some hope that military spending will soon gain a measure of scrutiny. With total costs for the two wars now over $1 trillion, and another $128 billion allocated for this fiscal year, people are beginning to take notice. Couple this huge price tag with the crippling effect the recession is having on state and local economies, and it’s likely that more and more officials like Matt Ryan, the mayor of Binghamton, New York will begin to take action. Mayor Ryan will be installing a digital “Cost of War” clock on the Binghamton City Hall. According to the Mayor, his city’s “War Tax” will reach $138.6 million by this September, and he wants the clock, “where everyone can see it, so that my constituents are urged to have a much-needed conversation.”

Conversation is always the first step, but unless our politicians can agree to check their campaign rhetoric at the door, there’s still not much hope of progress. We’ve certainly had substantial “conversation” about healthcare, the second largest slice of the federal budget. But far too much of what was communicated to the public about healthcare was either unadulterated bulldung or at the least a hedging of the truth.

It’s true that there were some bizarre stipulations in the legislation, but they are far from representative of the hyperbolic assertions made by leaders of the opposition. Sadly, the controversy surrounding the healthcare bill was centered in falsehood. Rather than discussing the real issues pertaining to passing a healthcare bill without healthcare reform, the disingenuous campaign by conservatives left a scorched earth path of misconception and false belief. Even today, in the aftermath of passage, we have asinine calls for repeal and a new wave of pro-business propaganda that will again pollute the well of public opinion.

When President Obama took office, I thought he could be the person to bring real change to Washington. My reaction to what he’s done thus far is tepid at best. From the stimulus package to the healthcare bill, President Obama has given far too much control to the Democrats in Congress. This is not to say that I think he should move right and strive for bipartisan progress, actually far from it. I believe instead that, unlike Congress, who should be held responsible to act on behalf of the constituencies who elected them, the President represents us all. The President is the only elected official in Washington in this capacity, and as such should be above partisanship. President Obama needs to face the entire nation as a nonpartisan. He needs to distinguish himself above the lies and rhetoric. He needs to look us in the eye and level with us regarding the state of the economy, and he needs to open a real conversation where we can discuss what ails us, what priorities we want to set, and how we can get back on track.

Barack Obama is the leader of the greatest country in the history of the world. He can still be amongst the greatest leaders in our history. He just needs to leave politics behind and trust that we will support him — that We the People can handle the truth.

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