- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The last of three excerpts.

The crisis in American governance is easy to define and difficult to fix. The array of problems facing the nation is as complex as at any time in our history. Many have no good or clear solution such as regaining the moral high ground in the war on terror. If containing the pernicious excesses of culture, crusade and partisanship are the best or only way to improve governance, what must be done? First, unless the public engages its government, effective action cannot follow. Second, accountability must be returned to government and government disciplined to act competently and for the public good.

Third, gross excesses and abuses of civil liberties that have stained America’s promise must be cleansed. Fourth, we need a strategic framework to set the nation’s course.

The most effective way for the public to engage government is through the ballot box and public pressure. But only just over half of eligible Americans vote. To engage Americans, a system of universal voting is proposed. Americans would be required to go to the polls or submit an absentee ballot for national elections. A vote need not be cast: however Americans must show up. Readers can speculate on what impact increasing the voting electorate to 70, 80 or even 90 percent would have on the political landscape and on curbing the worst excesses of culture, crusade and partisanship (and perhaps reforming education too as informed voters are crucial to good government).

Because even fewer Americans petition their elected officials than vote, to engage them public “town hall meetings” and national referenda on major issues such as immigration, health care and the war on terror should be instituted. The president should meet occasionally and directly with the public and answer or respond to questions and ideas.

Second, accountability in government must return. Accountability means reforming Congress and bringing it into the 21st century by reducing, streamlining and modernizing its committee system and procedures. For both branches, a Sarbanes-Oxley type of law is essential. Sarbanes-Oxley was passed in the wake of major corporate scandals. In Congress, for example, where virtually no one reads a bill before it is passed, members would be required to certify that they have read and understood the legislation on which they are voting. For the executive branch, senior officials would certify that the figures submitted in proposed legislation were accurate and if later proved erroneous by a large threshold, the law would be automatically revoked.

Third, the stains over the abuses against enemy combatants and our civil liberties must be removed. During the Korean War, North Korea used torture and duress to turn a number of American POWs against their country. Afterwards, the Code of Conduct was written and proved successful in the Vietnam War. A Code of Conduct for fighting the global war on terror is vitally needed. Simultaneously, the civil liberties commission proposed by the 9/11 Commission must be put in place with officials confirmed by the Senate. The aim is to balance national security with civil liberties, while protecting Americans by safeguarding constitutional guarantees.

To provide a context, a strategic construct is desperately needed that objectively integrates the realities of globalized world with our society at home. This framework must be based on knowledge and fact, not ideology or rhetoric, and must address the causes as well as the symptoms of the challenges and issues that lie ahead.

America’s Promise Restored proposes at length a framework of “peace, partnership and prosperity,” replacing the successful Cold War structure of containment, defense and deterrence. A first step is to put the hundreds of alliances, international agreements and arrangements the United States has entered into with friends and others abroad — which no one in the U.S. government has tried to coordinate — to better effective use by placing greater reliance on these cooperative multilateral and bilateral relationships than on unilateral action.

The book, along with complete arguments for each idea, presents other proposals. Here are two examples: how to fix the badly broken interagency process by which government makes its key decisions and ways for properly educating our public servants through turning the Department of Defense’s National Defense University into the National Security University open to all appropriate agencies of government including Congress and staffs.

In thinking about the nation and what to do, Americans should recall a relevant passage from the Declaration of Independence and take it to heart: “Governments…deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it and to institute new Government.” The cry is not for revolution but for restoration of our promise. The question is whether the spirit that motivated our forefathers exists today.

Harlan Ullman, who writes for The Washington Times, is the author of “America’s Promise Restored: Preventing Culture, Crusade and Partisanship from Wrecking Our Nation.”

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