- The Washington Times - Friday, September 22, 2000

When the presidential candidates started getting into the minutiae of how poor you have to be before you get a drug benefit under Medicare, I was insulted. This parceling out of the American electorate like so many little bundles of special interests is cynical and arrogant. The American people shouldn't be reduced to a cluster of greedy little special interests to be auctioned off to the highest bidder, but rather as valued citizens who come together every four years to consider the common good, the destiny of the nation.
The result of this special interest campaigning is that both presidential candidates are getting lost in the weeds, and are side-stepping the really big, tough questions of this election year the controversial "unmentionables" that affect us all.
Are we a nation of laws or of men? Part of the "Clinton legacy" is the national feeling that the rule of law was sidestepped, parsed, muddled, evaded, and ultimately, ignored by the president. How many subpoenas can the president ignore, how many potential crimes can his Justice Department avoid investigating before Americans get the impression that there are no meaningful laws anymore? How can anyone have faith in the next president's commitment to protect and defend the Constitution when the law itself has been reduced these eight years to a matter of "politics," clever maneuvering, "spin," and "public perception?"
Is our president going to be accountable for any of his decisions? So far, it seems like Harry Truman's maxim, "The buck stops here," has been completely obliterated by politicians who "distance" themselves from their own controversial decisions. If we're electing a commander in chief, we have to know that he's a man of judgment, not a man who runs away from his own policies and choices or worse, blames them on others. Americans want a president who, first, has convictions, secondly, has the courage to speak plainly about them and finally, is willing to take the heat for any controversy that arises from them. Everybody is tired of politicians who will say anything to any group about any issue to get elected.
Are citizens going to be persecuted for a difference of opinion? We've watched eight years of people and organizations most notably, the Boy Scouts being persecuted and ridiculed for holding a different opinion or view from the administration. Furthermore, citizens who testify before Congress about the government's errors and wrongdoings should never have to do so with the threat of White House retribution over their heads the loss of their jobs, harassment by the IRS, the smearing of their family and friends, the vicious shredding of their good name. All of this has happened with a kind of perverted regularity under Mr. Clinton. It's a reprehensible political practice that needs to end right now, for the good of the nation, and for the sake of our most sacred principle the right of free speech.
Finally, both candidates should give the nation a vision of where they think America needs to go in the next decade not settle on the safe old slogans from past elections. On the Republican side, I'd like to see new thinking on labor issues, arising from the booming legions of telecommuters and self-employed parents. On the Democratic side, I'd like to see an end to the tired, class warfare rhetoric of the last 100 years and a recognition that over 60 percent of the "little people" are now investors in our biggest industries through their 401Ks or IRAs.
Both parties should recognize that government itself may be less relevant to national destiny in the future, and need to treat and address American citizens differently than in past elections. A new attitude has arisen among the electorate: the GenXers, the GenYers, even most of the Boomers don't really want to rely on the government for their 21st century needs. And with new information technology and new opportunities, politicians need to realize that there's no reason why Americans can't be their own financial advisers to arrange for their own retirement. There's no reason why we can't be our own health care selectors, our own employers, even our own educators, if we choose.
In short, both George W. Bush and Al Gore need to take a good look at America sense its potential, head off potential dangers, and get out of the way of its growth. This is no longer the Depression where we needed big social programs from the government. It's no longer the Cold War where we needed enormous defense systems to protect us or at least the types of defense systems we needed then. The old political dichotomies "the big guys vs. the little people," labor vs. management, old vs. young are breaking down. We're all in this together and the 21st century bottom line is quickly turning into one of convergence of interests. Why is there so little distance sometimes between Republicans and Democrats on so many issues, but for that?
As this first campaign of the new century lurches through the same stale old dogmas and the parties snipe at each other about stupid stuff subliminal messages in campaign ads, private expletives spoken barely within range of a microphone there is a whole other set of unmentioned campaign issues that the voters will really be using to judge the candidates next November. In the end, citizens vote for the person as a whole, not the fine print of some complicated campaign promise. What kind of character does this leader have? Can I trust what he says? What broad vision does he have for America? Is he going to correct the problems of present-day America or will he be a continuation of them? Are we going to move together into the future or is the new president going to stop us in our tracks with divisive tangents?
It may be said that it is easier to find faults than to amend them. But Thomas Jefferson took exception to that defeatist thinking: "I do not think their amendment [of faults] so difficult as is pretended. Only lay down true principles, and adhere to them inflexibly." I wish he were alive today, and running for president.

Alcestis Oberg, a journalist, is the author of three books on science and technology.

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