As I listen to the presidential candidates speak and engage in what passes for debate these days, it appears that most, if not all of them are simply talking about improving the old government model, rather than boldly proclaiming a new one. Carmakers, if they want to sell cars, produce "new and improved" models, not remakes of previous ones. So why do politicians continue to rely on a Model T version of government when it's outmoded and unfit for modern life?
Presidential candidates should speak about what has worked in the past and could work again. The candidates - at least the Republican ones, if they remember what Republicans are supposed to stand for - should be talking about freedom from dependency and a return to self-sufficiency. Government doesn't need to be reformed under the present system; it needs to be transformed under a new one.
Last week, a small group of fellow journalists and I had breakfast with former Speaker Newt Gingrich. Talk about a man who has learned from his mistakes! Gingrich now heads American Solutions for Winning the Future, an organization whose Website describes it as "a unique nonpartisan organization designed to rise above traditional gridlocked partisanship, to provide real, significant solutions to the most important issues facing our country." It is thrilling to sit and listen to his ideas that are no longer based on partisan posturing and strategies to win the next election, but on proposals that would work and benefit all Americans, regardless of party affiliation.
"We need a new American dialogue that focuses on evidence and data and sorts out what works and what fails," he says. "Then we need to migrate government policies and government bureaucracies away from failure and toward success." Gingrich calls government at all levels "incompetent" and makes no distinction about which party is running it.
Who could argue with that? Only those with a vested interest in the status quo, lobbyists and polarizers, for example.
Is there anyone who is satisfied with the way large and ever-growing, bureaucratic, impersonal government works? No matter who's running it, government doesn't work precisely because of its aforementioned traits. It costs more and delivers less than ever before. It has created a dependency culture that prevents - not helps - some of the disadvantaged from achieving their dreams, if they have any after relying too much and for far too long on government.
"The solutions we need are bigger than the current political process can create," says Gingrich. Who can credibly disagree? And if you do disagree, can you give an example of what major problems government is fixing? Social Security? Education? Health care?
"We need an educational dialogue before we have a political debate," he says. Yes, we do, but who will give it to us if the presidential candidates are about patching and mending the current system? How many people understand basic economics and the principals behind capitalism? Who understands the history of their own country and the ideas that founded and have sustained it through domestic and foreign challenges? Are there politicians who will lead us to what we need rather than indulge us in the silliness of what we want, like our obsession with O.J. Simpson and other members of the cult of the depraved?
Television increasingly serves up crime and slime. These are not the things of the mind, but of the gut and the groin.
The public wants real change, says Gingrich, but the politicians - perhaps fearful of organized groups that could turn the image of a saint into one of a deviant - won't give it to them. The desire for change is not the exclusive property of conservative, white Republicans. Gingrich cites polls that show the yearning for change extends across all racial, ethnic and political groups.
Gingrich is trying to raise $30 million in three weeks to see if he should run for president. Whether he does, or not, his ideas are worth considering. They are precisely what the country needs. Candidates should be willing to talk about them and the rest of us ought to pay attention. We might if we are presented with something that actually works instead of the same old snake oil, which never does.
Citizenship is not about what government can do for us, but what we can do for ourselves. That is an old model that increasingly looks like a classic car. And it is far more attractive and road-tested than the current government jalopy, which is ready for the junk heap.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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