Democracy in Action

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Democracy must be built through open societies that share information. When there is information, there is enlightenment. When there is debate, there are solutions. When there is no sharing of power, no rule of law, no accountability, there is abuse, corruption, subjugation and indignation. – Atifete Jahjaga, Kosovar politician and the fourth President of Kosovo. 

I readily admit that I have a love/hate relationship with politics. I tire easily of the high-blown rhetoric and empty promises of politicians jockeying for a one-up with the voters. In my 60+ years I’ve heard it all before.

But as I watched the Fox Business News Republican debate last night I found myself stirring with excitement as I looked at these articulate candidates and wondered which might be our next President. When I was in third grade at Fish Creek Elementary School in Georgia our teacher, Mrs. Albee, put pictures of Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy in our classroom. She encouraged us to watch the debates and we discussed them in class the next day. We anxiously awaited the election results which left some bitterly disappointed and the rest elated. Even at that young age we were engaged in the process of democracy. I expect the kind of interactive learning Mrs. Albee employed would be frowned upon in today’s politically correct, “I’m afraid I will offend someone” classrooms of today. She instilled in me a deep interest in government and politics that has lasted a lifetime.

I had the privilege of visiting the Senate in Washington, DC as a part of a leadership training program. As I sat in the gallery I eagerly pointed out senators I recognized to my seat mate. “Look, there’s Patrick Leahy and Susan Collins. And over there is Barack Obama, they say he wants to run for President.” She looked at me and asked how I knew all this. I answered in amazement, “I watch the news!” Sadly, this part of the trip did not hold the fascination for her that it did for me. While I was riveted, she was bored to tears. When I grew up we had three television channels and at 6:00 PM, you watched the news. We also took a newspaper that I devoured cover to cover each day when I got home from school.

I have to limit myself or I would watch news all day, and unfortunately, the content of most news programs today are more like the contents of a scandal magazine. Sensationalism sells. I do watch Fox News every evening and it is my channel of choice for keeping up with what is going on in the world. Bret Baier is unparalleled in current news reporters. He is fair, balanced and a journalist in the truest sense of the word.

I watched every minute of the two FBN debates and after the debacle of the CNBC “debate” it was refreshing to see a true debate with professional moderators who made the event about the candidates and not themselves – who asked the questions American voters want to hear, not “gotcha” or inane questions designed to make the moderators look good. Just a note, MSNBC and CNBC, you didn’t succeed if that was your goal. You came off looking like fools.

FBN is to be commended and as I watched the debate I found myself tingling with that old excitement and anticipation that Mrs. Albee instilled in me all those years ago in a tiny, backwoods Southern school. She and all educators like her are also to be commended, for if children are not engaged in the process of democracy they will grow up to be adults who can sit in the Senate Chambers and not feel pride in our democratic process. The people who sit in that chamber may be flawed, but the process itself is the best in the world. It means we live in a country where we are free to vote and participate firsthand in the ruling of a nation.

I look forward to the rest of the debates that will continue with fewer candidates as they are refined through the campaigning process. It is an exciting time and I will never be accused of being an uninformed voter. Thank you Mrs. Albee.

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The Circus is in Town

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A national political campaign is better than the best circus ever heard of, with a mass baptism and a couple of hangings thrown in . – H.L. Mencken

More and more candidates are throwing their hat into the 2016 presidential ring and the media, not to be outdone, are expanding that ring to three. The site of news reporters running after Clinton’s “Scooby” van was like watching a film of Japanese citizens fleeing Godzilla in reverse. Reporters have a difficult time trying to get the best tidbits of news, but focusing on what Hillary had to eat at Chipotle as a leading news story is ridiculous. Did we really need to know she had Masala chai and caramel lattes? What about asking her about her plan for the economy and her stance on Iran nuclear capabilities? Oh, that’s right, she won’t talk to reporters; therefore the mad rush to try to capture even a snippet of something to report to the nation on her campaign. As Clinton is choosing to run her campaign in a veil of secrecy perhaps the press should pick up their cameras and follow other candidates, leaving her to sit alone in her dark sunglasses with a few selected sycophants. Let her be the one to pursue the press.

Other candidates, while more visible, are still victims of the media who seem to find the highlighting of meaningless trivia more important than asking the hard questions we as the American public really want to know. Marco Rubio is too young vs. Clinton who is too old. Rand Paul and Chris Christie are flip-flopping. Jeb Bush is too old school. Ted Cruz is too much of a firebrand. This or that candidate is too wealthy, conservative, liberal, weak in foreign policy, hawkish and on and on.

We have a year and a half until the 2016 presidential election and by that time most of us will be so sick of mud-slinging and scandal dredging that we will just want it to be over. As the voters make the decision of who will (hopefully) lead our country for another four years, the defeated politicians will limp home, torn and bleeding, having spent millions, if not billions of dollars, to regroup and start plotting for another run in four years.

There is a lot of talk about campaign reform. It is one of Clinton’s talking points and one she wants to address if her 2 billion dollar campaign is successful. I have some suggestions to simplify the election process and reduce voter fatigue. Give each candidate one month to campaign. The first three weeks all television and radio ads are banned. Week one all the candidates will have knockout debates within their party with judges giving scores much like the Olympics. In the second week the winner of the debates will have a series of debates based on the topics that the American people have deemed most important. The third week the candidates can go wherever they want to campaign. The fourth week they can have television and radio ads but they can only talk about their plan for America and cannot mention the other candidate.

Clean and simple. Yes, I know this will never happen and maybe it shouldn’t. Maybe we need to have our candidates slug it out so we are sure they have the stamina to endure the rigors of being president of the most powerful country in the world in a time of economic instability and the growing threat of global terrorism. I also know that too much of anything is not good. Too much cake makes your stomach ache and staying too long at the circus just makes you tired and fussy.

Democracy vs. Dynasty

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In the scheme of our national government, the presidency is preeminently the people’s office. – Grover Cleveland

Hillary Clinton has officially announced her candidacy for president and while I would love to see a woman in the White House, I don’t want just any woman. And I don’t want a Clinton or a Bush for that matter. Out of the last twenty-six years, twenty of those have been under a Clinton or Bush presidency. While I think both families have served our country to the best of their abilities- succeeding in some respects, failing in others-the truth is our country is not prospering.

We don’t have the respect in the world we once commanded.  From working in Afghanistan I know that we are regarded as weak because we hand over billions of dollars without bargaining or asking for anything in return. America as a country is seen as an aggressor trying to buy loyalty in a way that only creates disdain from the Middle East and our biggest mistake in our dealings with them is failing to understand their culture.

The 2016 presidential race has so many talented candidates in both Democratic and Republican camps. It could be the most exciting campaign we have seen in decades or it could be the same old business as usual affair. The 2014 election showed an overwhelming repudiation of the Democratic Party and the Draconian cronyism in Washington but I don’t see Republicans taking advantage of their victories by making meaningful changes. The American public has political fatigue.

I believe the reason President Obama won in 2008 was his powerful rhetoric that was infused with hope and the promise of change. The American public is longing for prosperity, national pride and a sense of personal security. But candidates can promise much with their words but words alone do not deliver outcomes. President Obama is a man of words and only if he has a teleprompter. He is not a man of action and his inaction and hesitancy have caused frustration in the American public. Although the economic statistics are positive, the majority of Americans still feel they are worse off than ever before.

I am praying that we won’t have a ticket of Bush vs. Clinton in 2016. The Presidency should not be an inheritance. It should be a bastion of democracy and not an enclave of dynasties. Let’s elect someone who isn’t the traditional liberal or conservative. That just doesn’t seem to be working. Most of all, let’s elect someone with integrity, honesty and courage. And we haven’t had someone in the White House since Harry Truman that wasn’t a millionaire; maybe we could elect someone who really can relate to the needs of the common families of America.

If we don’t get the next election right we will become even more vulnerable to the vultures who are circling our nation just waiting for us to get too weak to fight back. Our country needs new blood in the White House. We need and deserve a leader who not only inspires, but actually leads us back to the proud nation we once were.