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First, a nation has to have a good operating system: laws, regulations and property rights.
Columnist, New York Times
Renewal, Reflection, Restoration
In many ways the onset of a new decade is an event of renewal. A cause to reflect and to change. A moment to discard what’s wrong in our lives and pursue new avenues along which to search for what is right.
Former NBC Newsman Tom Brokaw dubbed that generation of Americans who fought in or lived through World War II ) the greatest generation because they overcame the great depression and gave of their wealth and blood to win World War II. They achieved the impossible — not by complaining, or avoiding their historic responsibility — they did so by being responsible adults and by making optimal decisions. In their era, the most productive and influential in American history, being optimal came naturally.
Being optimal, winning world war II, and rebuilding Europe all required a nation working together to be the very best it could be. Civility and shared burden were essential, as were political compromise and clear leadership.
To the degree that America is slipping, or is headed in the wrong direction, as many Americans now believe, our perceived failures can be attributed to having become sub-optimal in how we think, govern, legislate, organize and make decisions. If we are to reverse this trend, it will come about at the hands of responsible adults capable and willing to work together.
It’s not that we don’t know how to be optimal in what we do, for optimal thinking and decision making remains a uniquely American trait. Optimal thinking is what drives the American economy. Being optimal is what has made our nation so successful in technology, the arts, entertainment, farming and all the other things we do so well.
One of the more prescient conservative voices on today’s America, New York Times columnist David Brooks, opined recently, “First, a nation has to have a good operating system: laws, regulations and property rights.”
But we are no longer optimal as a nation. Our national operating system ( system of governance ) is not only sub-optimal it is still slipping. This trend must be reversed if we are to restore the optimal nation we inherited from previous generations of Americans.
Heading In The Wrong Direction
Each of us, perhaps all of us, can see that the present trends, if left unchecked, are leading us away from tranquility and achievement and toward uncertainty and failure.
How is it possible for our national operating system to be failing? Is such a happening really possible? Most of us find such a question to be imponderable, if not outright foolish. But there is clear evidence.
For example: Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal era operating system was optimal. While there was considerable political wrangling, the outcome was a significant improvement in the national operating system — laws the benefited all Americans, regulations that protected everyone’s interests, while protecting the property rights of everyone.
In contrast, Barack Obama’s first year has been clearly and embarrassingly sub-optimal. Is this his fault? Maybe. Maybe he took on too much, or failed to focus on issues the electorate thought most important. Or, maybe not.
The point is that America expected far more — for his countrymen also awarded our new president a super-majority in the congress. Now, a year after his inspiring inauguration, our new President has not met his own expectations, nor the aspirations of his countrymen.
How could Mr. Obama’s first year have failed? The Republicans, you say? No more so than the Democrats. Both parties are entrenched in open warfare with one another. Together they behave as children in a food fight when their nation needs them to come together to do the people’s business.
One reason is the U.S. Senate’s out of date cloture rule. Prior to today’s Congress, the last time the Democrats owned a filibuster-proof majority in the U.S. Senate was their 62 seat majority during the 95th Congress [1977 -1979].
Today, Senate rules [not the U.S. Constitution ] requires 60 to invoke cloture — a vote that forces a definitive end to debate — effectively ending a filibuster in which one party tries to kill pending legislation by endless talking. While there was a time when Senate rules required a two-thirds vote ( 67 votes ) for cloture, a filibuster could be ended with a simple majority vote until until Woodrow Wilson suggested the rules be changed to two-thirds — and that was in 1917.
Today, both parties use the filibuster, or the threat of one, to sabotage anything they don’t like, or think they might be able to stop. Any suggestion that one party is worse than the other is not supported by fact. Today it’s the Republicans, but when they next have a majority in the Senate, the Democrats will be as bad or worse.
And why all this discussion of the filibuster? Because the failure by both parties to use it sparingly has been a principal contributor to our failing national operating system. Achieving optimal legislation, like optimal governance, requires balance and shared responsibility. Today’s politicians are less about solving our national problems and keeping our operating system in top form than they are about promoting a single ideology as suitable for a very complex and active nation.
Their ideological wars are not new. No matter which party is in power, the architects and code-writers of our American operating system, the United States Congress, have turned away from dong what is optimal in favor of doing only what is ideological, or pork-laden, or, when all else fails, doing nothing at all.
Thus, as a nation, our operating system is failing.
And with it, the optimal America entrusted to us by generations of responsible Americans gone before.
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