My Fellow Americans, this nation has become a tragic embarrassment. The "American Dream" is a joke. A farce of a sham of a mockery of a travesty. It has nothing to do with goodness or generosity or compassion or caring. The Dream is not about family and friends and sharing common goals for the common good. The Dream has to do with iPods and plasma screen tvs and Hummers and McMansions.
And learning whatever dirty tricks and bad behavior is necessary to attain those symbols of "The American Dream." We are tv's "Survivor" gone national. It infects us all. The self-proclaimed Greedheads and the not so self-proclaimed.
Greed knows no ideology or political affiliation. Greed knows no boundaries. It lies within all of us. Liberals and Conservatives. Republicans and Democrats. Gays and Straights. Does race, color, or creed make difference? Point of national origin? Makes no difference at all. Age? A taste of greed at three will remain in the mouth for eight or nine decades. And yet, we are mostly users, not sellers. We are not a bad lot, just an indifferent one. We allow a small part of the population to define us. We sense the wrongness of it all....we realize that material wealth hardly satisfies our longing for something genuine. We want something truly sustaining and meaningful. But we buy the stuff and watch the crap and we become what They want us to be. We are like sheep being led to slaughter and we pay for it with our overextended credit cards.
I also know that nothing said here will make a difference. In the last half century, others have tried. All have failed. In 1968 Bobby Kennedy saw the America he loved drifting. He warned us to treasure the things in Life that truly matter, not the material accumulation of wealth as measured by our Gross National Product. He noted that the GNP "measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. It can tell us everything about America except why we are proud we are Americans."
He was murdered eight weeks later.
The last leader to show that kind of courage was Jimmy Carter. In 1979, he leveled with the American people as no president has done since. I want to speak to you first tonight about a subject even more serious than energy or inflation. I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy. The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our Nation. The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America. In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we've discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We've learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose. These changes did not happen overnight. They've come upon us gradually over the last generation...
He offered a way out for all this. He challenged Americans to work together, to re-invent their country. Carter believed there was still time.
But his speech was met with derision and cynicism, from Republicans and Democrats alike. When he stood for re-election a year later, Carter was handily defeated by Ronald Reagan. In 2008, can you imagine Obama or McCain repeating Carter's warning or offering such honesty?
Forget about it. BUT help is on the way.
Over the years, I've been called a "negative," "anti-everything," the "Prophet of Doom and Gloom." But I've been accused of being the ultimate rhetorical "Master of Disaster" by so many unimaginative, brain-dead, flat-lining, head-in-the-sand Zephyr critics....what's one more blunt assessment going to matter?
As my mentor, Edward Abbey once said: "Throw a rock at something big and glassy...what have you got to lose?"
Imagine, if you will, that I could, with your help, win the presidency. And stretch your imagination even farther. Imagine that it could actually make a difference! Go wild and dream of a United States Congress that really wanted to make a difference as well, to affect change for the Common Good.
To inspire us!
Here is how I see it and this is what I'd do.
POPULATION & CONSUMPTION & GLOBAL WARMING
Demographers say we have nothing to worry about. The world's population will "stabilize" at between nine and eleven billion, sometime in the second half of this century. As if that's good news.
What a relief... Clearly these people are insane.
And what if they are right. The ever-expanding global free market economy demands an expanding population of consumers and cheap labor to make it work. What would happen if the world population DID stabilize and begin to fall? Capitalists everywhere would panic.
As the world's leading scientists forecast catastrophe on a global scale, we can look not only to population as the culprit. It's the consumption, stupid! It's 7 billion Planet Earth residents all trying to live like us. It cannot be done. Yet no one, even the "greenest" of the environmentalists, want to give up their stuff. They are an embarrassment to the cause of conservation.
But it is time we all began to live within our means. Forced to do so, we may find we prefer a lifestyle unencumbered by massive debt and piles of useless and meaningless toys. First we must put a stop to a world driven by credit, by money we do not have.
In the 90s we saw the collapse of the stock market bubble. In this decade we face an unprecedented mortgage crisis. We are all to blame—the lenders and the borrowers. Look next to the collapse of the credit card industry. When card users start paying 22% interest on the gas and groceries they bought last month, can disaster be far behind? So enough. This administration will impose restrictions on the credit card industry with two goals in mind.
First we must reduce the personal debt of our citizens. This nation cannot continue to live a lifestyle based, in effect, on a lie. We have become slaves to our debt and it has diminished the quality of our lives.
Second, by imposing strict limits on credit, we must learn to buy wisely. It will reduce frivolous spending and we will have to adapt. But since most of our purchases are for products we want but don't need, it will help us redefine Happiness itself.
And since almost all of the products we purchase are manufactured in Asia, the dramatic reduction in spending will have little effect on what's left of our own manufacturing base. China and India will have to take steps of their own to deal with reduced income. Hopefully they'll make the same discoveries about Happiness and Simplicity. This government will also reign in the opulent and extravagant side of the housing market and will reward homeowners who choose to live in responsible, reasonably sized dwellings. I will provide tax incentives and subsidize local property taxes on new home construction that limits house size to 1500 square feet. It will impose such stiff penalties on oversized castles that even the most extravagant Rich Weasel will flinch at the costs imposed on homes that exceed an appropriate size. As the square footage increases, so will the cost. The government will also subsidize homeowners who choose to downsize. Reduce your living area and we will reward you.
As for population, we will set a limit of TWO dependents for children for federal tax purposes and will eliminate child tax credits as well. I would never have the right to tell a couple how many children they can have. BUT I have no problem insisting that if they choose to have a large family, THEY can pay for the expense.
Still such actions are token at best. What will truly cause population reductions? The only decade in the 20th century that experienced almost negligible growth was the 1930s. It was the decade of the Great Depression. We may be forced to reduce our population because we simply cannot afford to feed a larger one. But we may also discover that economic hardships create opportunities to live the kind of life that we long for.
I cannot imagine any other way.
OTHER FORMS OF CONSERVATION AND THE
The problem with "conservation" is that it never means what we think it should mean. When we're told to "conserve," they don't really propose that we, as a society, reduce our demand for energy and water. What the powers-that-be have in mind is this: Please conserve so that there are enough resources for our city or state or nation to grow somewhere else.
For a good chuckle and an example as well, consider Las Vegas. Sin City has embraced water "conservation" efforts recently. They've imposed limits on residential consumption and advocate xeriscaping. But there are no plans to cap growth and certainly not to reverse the obscene trend of runaway expansion. Vegas wants to keep growing...they just want to find way to feed more pigs at the trough with the same amount of feed. My government will put an end to all this. It will set goals for conservation and limits on energy consumption and we will abide by those goals and limits. We will NOT transfer those savings to growth elsewhere.
Besides, by limiting the credit economy and forcing all of us to live with what we earn, the question of reckless irresponsible growth will already have been resolved. As the price of oil continues to climb, and the cost of transporting goods skyrockets, it will be imperative to localize our agricultural base. It is ridiculous to note that much of our food supply is now shipped hundreds or thousands of miles before we ever put a fork into it. As James Kunstler says, "A Caesar salad travels 2500 miles before it reaches the table." This has to end.
Therefore, my government would stop further suburban and exurban growth around major metropolitan areas. While I loathe the practice of eminent domain in most cases. I would invoke the power of eminent domain if necessary, to claim the development rights on open land, to assure there are adequate available arable lands to re-establish an agricultural base.
In the American West, where State Institutional Trust lands checkerboard the landscape, I would take whatever steps are necessary to prevent their development as well, especially when those lands have agricultural potential. Again if eminent domain is necessary, it will be invoked.
FOREIGN POLICY & WAR
For the last 60 years we have never entered a war where we didn't have a vested interest. It's usually oil or a natural resource that drives us to take up arms "in defense of freedom." Please...give me a break.
I have no interest in imposing the America Way on other countries or cultures. I have no interest in exploiting their natural resources. I have no interest in spreading Christianity around the world, wrapped in the American flag. I would withdraw our military from all foreign soil, unless specifically asked to stay by a democratically elected government. For decades we have supported ruthless tyrants around the globe simply because they would do our bidding...they're our ruthless tyrants so they must be good guys.
The United States military would be transformed into a rapid deployment humanitarian force, to provide aid and comfort to the citizens of countries around the world who need assistance. Imagine the good will that could have been achieved, just a few years ago, when a devastating earthquake destroyed large sections of Afghanistan. We continue to spend billions on military aid to impose our will on the Afghans. We kill their civilians and issue statements that say the "events were regrettable;" yet our earthquake assistance was, by comparison, negligible.
What is wrong with us?
EDUCATION & COMPULSORY PUBLIC SERVICE
I have never seen such an uninformed, indifferent, self-absorbed generation as the school age kids wandering the streets and malls of America today. Could any group be more disengaged? And it's our fault. We've done nothing to inspire them.
Where are the likes of Orville Williams, my seventh grade CORE teacher, when we really need them? Mr. Williams stood 5 feet 5 inches and was built like a compact tank. He was the wrestling coach and once, when I would not stop talking in class, Mr. Williams made me come to the front of the classroom. He drew a circle on the chalk board that was about three inches higher than my nose. Then he told me to put my nose into the center of that circle and stay there, on tip-toes, for the rest of the hour.
But he also inspired us to write our own poetry and to memorize the great works of others, from Frost to Longfellow. He made Kentucky history come alive. What I learned in Mr. Williams' class stays with me to this day. And that nose on the chalkboard trick stayed with me as well.
We need teachers like Orville Williams; yet most school districts seem more obsessed with infrastructure than the quality of the education. Give me a good teacher and I can be inspired in a cat latrine.
I am appalled at the cost of higher education in the 21st Century. Burdened by a mountain of debt, graduates no longer have the luxury of finding what they really want from Life anymore. Instead, they almost always need to seek employment immediately, to pay off their student loans. And it doesn't help that by 21, most of them, influenced by the temptations of our culture of greed, have also become credit card debtors.
I propose that we eliminate the debt and the need to spend, all in one fell swoop. As president, I will impose compulsory public service (CPS) on all young Americans, male and female. They can serve their two years immediately after high school. Or, if they choose to attend college, they can complete their CPS upon graduation. Either way, CPS will reward them with a free college education. They can then face the world, debt-free, and take the time they need to determine the kind of life they want.
Compulsory Public Service could mean military service if they choose. Or it could mean service in a revitalized Peace Corps. Or a revamped AmeriCorps that would attempt to place its recruits in environments very different from their backgrounds. Mandatory compassion is our last hope.
More than anything, CPS would force the Young to think about the well-being of others. The never ending narcissistic self-indulgence that infects them now does nothing to make the world a better place.
Finally, I would cut off federal funding to any university that pays its football coach more than its history professors. And a lion's share of all revenues from collegiate sports must be distributed equally with the academic departments of the university.
Speaking of self-indulgent narcissists...
When exactly did the US Congress quit representing the best interests of the American people? I can't remember...it's been so long ago.
This was never supposed to be a lifetime job. It isn't damn career. I would support a constitutional amendment to impose term limits on both the Congress and the Presidency. Senators could serve two six year terms. Members of the House would have four year terms instead of the current two...and they would be able to serve no more than three terms. Twelve years for both houses of Congress is enough.
These bloodsuckers will complain that the cost of buying a second home in Washington, only to have to sell it in 12 years, is an unfair burden. Relief is on the way. I'd take some of the rundown, abandoned public housing in the DC area and transform them into the Congressional Dormitories.
Members of Congress would be REQUIRED to live there. I'd provide decent comfortable living quarters, but they would be required to buddy-up. TWO congresspersons or senators per apartment. And I would be sure there was an ideological balance in the pairing of roommates. No ideological segregation would be allowed. I would hire Mark Shields and David Brooks, the Democratic and Republican commentators, respectively, on the PBS News Hour to make the pairing choices.
For presidential term limits, let me steal an idea from an author I heard on NPR, but whose name I cannot recall. He proposes a one six year term of office, BUT he provides for a national YES/NO referendum that would allow the Prez to stay on for two more years.
I like it. Finally, why should the Supreme Court justices receive lifetime appointments? That's insane. How can one justice wield so much power for decades, without question? I would propose a constitutional amendment to end this lifelong hierarchy. Justices already appointed for life will be able to stay. But as the old farts die or retire, their replacements would be appointed to serve the court for one ten year term. No re-appointments.
And finally, let's reduce the length of a presidential campaign. No candidate can file until 180 days before the election. I will ban all private campaign contributions, provide reasonable public financing and create a FREE cable channel that would dedicate itself to free access for all candidates. The channel would have its own state affiliate to cover local and state campaigns as well. Whether voters choose to view the candidates on the Election Channel, whether they want to make an informed choice or not, would be entirely up to them.
THE ENVIRONMENT & WILDERNESS
Our wildlands are dwindling at an astonishing rate. My government will strive to expand those protected lands. BUT we will not allow the commercial exploitation of wilderness by anyone. Not by oil and gas interests. Nor by timber companies. Nor will we allow them to be exploited for their beauty either. I will end the commercial exploitation of all national parks and monuments and in all federally designated wilderness areas. Period.
It's the NUMBERS, stupid! We have to control the flood of humans into this country. But no one can deny the work ethic of most undocumented aliens puts most of us to shame. Let's do a trade. For every illegal who gains employment in this country and shows him or herself to be a hardworking employee, let's send some worthless government pencil pusher south. One in. One out. Or how about some of those highway department guys who always gather in groups of ten to lean on their shovels? Or the retail clerks and checkout people who stare at us blankly when we ask them a question and shrug and say, "dunno."
Send those people to Guadalajara.
NON-PROFITS & LOBBYISTS
This publication recently noted the change in non-profits, particularly within the environmental movement. They have become money machines and they claim it's a necessary evil to combat the Washington lobbyists who represent the major corporations. Well, let's even the playing field by changing the equation.
Let's call a spade a spade, not a shovel. Whether they're from the Sierra Club or Mobil/Exxon, they're ALL well-paid lobbyists. So let's get rid of the money. Members of Congress will hold Debate Days on a regular schedule. They'll invite representatives from both sides of an issue or a piece of legislation and let them have their say. Then the legislators can take that information and make an informed decision, based on the testimony, not on the free trip to Bermuda or free use of the corporate box at New Yankee Stadium, or free use of the company condo in Miami. And Congressmen caught being bribed by either side of the argument would be removed from office.
I would allow bicyclists to write off their mileage on their federal taxes but would also require them to register, like cars, for one dollar.
I'd make Foggy Mountain Breakdown the national anthem.
I would provide funding to retrofit all homes in America with a backup solar photovoltaic system for low wattage electrical needs.
Free low wattage bulbs for everyone.
I would require all Pentacostal Christians to actually READ the Four Gospels of the New Testament...there WILL be a quiz.
I would guarantee tax credits for veggie gardens.
I'd plant dandelions on the White House lawn.
I'd drain Lake Powell but would allow no one to visit it for 45 years, the length of time the canyon has been flooded...it needs a break from humans.
I'd ban tv reality shows...Life is grim enough as it is.
I would show no mercy for deadbeat dads.
Hummers may be shot on sight.
I would honor all treaties between the United States government and the sovereign nations of Native Americans who inhabited this continent before us. It's about bloody time.
AND SO MY FELLOW AMERICANS...
History may only remember George H.W. Bush, the 41st President of the United States, as the biological father of America's first Pinhead Commander-in-Chief. It is a curse that he cannot deny, unless he can offer proof of a milkman intervention with Barbara.
Still, Bush-41 deserves some credit for a hope he once expressed for America. While he is mocked and derided for it now, President Bush once admonished us to become "a kinder and gentler nation."
What a lovely sentiment.
If only we could. If only we could become the country Bobby Kennedy urged us to be and measure our wealth in ways the Gross National Product fails to reflect. If only we could imagine a country that honors its diversity and differences as well as its common bonds. Imagine a nation that puts fairness before obscene profits.
Imagine a baseball stadium that isn't named for a corporate sponsor that still sells cheap seats and quarter hot dogs and fifty cent beer. Imagine a health care system that puts its patients before its profit margin. Imagine a university that doesn't bankrupt its students before they even graduate. Imagine a country of citizens, fractured by conflicting views, but willing to stand in the other side's shoes, just for a moment, in search of understanding.
Imagine a country that truly cares.
Elie Wiesel, the great humanitarian who survived the horrors of Auschwitz, once described the greatest threat of all...
Of course, indifference can be tempting -- more than that, seductive. It is so much easier to look away from victims. It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes. It is, after all, awkward, troublesome, to be involved in another person's pain and despair. Yet, for the person who is indifferent, his or her neighbor are of no consequence. And, therefore, their lives are meaningless. Their hidden or even visible anguish is of no interest. Indifference reduces the Other to an abstraction.
We are not a country of evil people. We are a nation distracted by the superficial and the shallow because we've been spoon-fed this dish so long, we know nothing else. And even worse, we don't seem to mind. Indifference is our undoing. By definition, we won't even notice.
Somebody out there...please.
Good night and good luck.