Americans must demand genuine, bold leadership from candidates

Over the last decade, America has witnessed a series of dramatic successes. Our aggregate economic indicators have been at their best ever. The end of the Cold War has legitimized American democracy and free-market policies. However, all this “good news” has falsified our perceptions. In a time of dramatically high stock returns and dwindling murder rates, we are ignoring many still-existing, important, underlying problems. We are becoming numb to issues that must be addressed quickly and resolutely. Great economic growth has allowed us to grow apathetic.

Cornel West said in his lecture here last Wednesday that complacency is the mortal enemy of democracy. He also said that we are in dire need of true statesmanship.

Dr. West is right; America needs statesmen who are willing to take on the immense problems facing us. As we enter the 2000 presidential election season, we need to choose a President who is bold in ideology.

We need someone who will wake up America, who is not afraid of special interests and who will, frankly, ignore the polls. We need someone who will tackle the myriad complicated problems infecting our democracy.

What are these problems that our next President should address? Well, there is a wide array of issues; here is just a sampling of those that require urgent action:

• Despite America’s impressive economic growth during the 90s, the gap between rich and poor is widening dramatically. Laissez-faire economic policies have allowed our middle-class to shrink, driving more Americans into the working class and into poverty. As a result, many pockets of this country exhibit third world conditions.

• Social Security and Medicare, two pillars of the American socio-economic framework, are facing imminent bankruptcy in the face of unprecedented demographic and financial challenges. We must act quickly to save and strengthen these programs for future generations.

• Nor can we ignore environmental issues. We see global warming and overpopulation creeping upon us. In America, suburban sprawl is out of control, destroying many of our natural habitats and corrupting our natural beauty.

• Our public education system consistently ranks among the worst in the developed world. We cannot afford to put another generation of American children through schools that lack tough, academic and intellectual standards, which are riddled with violence, failing teaching strategies and decrepit facilities.

• We are the only industrialized country without universal health insurance; consequently, almost 50 million Americans lack basic health care. This poses a great moral dilemma to a society that prides itself on equality. Today, wealth buys good health. Those that do not have health insurance are more likely to suffer from chronic health problems and die premature deaths. Many millions of the uninsured are children, posing a public health disaster in the making.

• The Republican Congress’ treacherous isolationism is eroding away America’s credibility and prestige in the world. We cannot afford another year of the irresponsible, arrogant, ignorant and insulting behavior in foreign affairs on the part of this Congress.

• Americans are overworked, underpaid and enslaved by market forces. We are becoming increasingly isolated from one another and becoming more complacent and less involved in public life and public discourse.

These issues pose real threats to the survival of our democracy. As Bill Bradley says, “big problems require big solutions.”

We can no longer afford the excruciating politics of the center that is so characteristic of the Clinton administration. We cannot go through another four or eight years of “baby-step” solutions. America needs action now. America needs universal health care now; we need comprehensive campaign finance reform now; we need to completely revamp our education system now.

These problems are eating away at America’s core and most of us do not even realize it. Our failure to confront them, coupled with our inability to institute sweeping solutions will sooner, rather than later, explode in our face.

Our next President must be bold and visionary. He or she must not be afraid to take on powerful, and usually unhealthy, self-interests. Our next leader should look to his/her heart and not to polling data for political inspiration. We’ve had enough of the politics of complacency. America is thirsty for ideology. We need true, genuine leadership now.