Where Have All The Leaders Gone? (an appeal to the next President)

"Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better."  - Harry S. Truman

I’ve been following the presidential election from afar with a growing sense of frustration. I’m an American expat living in Buenos Aires – I don’t watch the news and we don’t spend much time talking politics, but I do spend a fair amount of time reading about the various candidates. I’m dismayed by the constant, petty arguing, the lack of respect, and the absence of logic, but most of all, I am discouraged by the lack of leadership.

It feels like our country has become increasingly divided over the past ten years. Our politicians – and our citizens – are constantly bickering over a myriad of very sensitive issues. We square off about tax breaks for millionaires (1% vs 99%), the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (interventionists vs mind-our-own-businessists), gay marriage (conservatives vs liberals), abortion (pro-life vs pro-choice), and a host of other us-vs-them issues.

The problem with these type of issues is that there is no clear-cut, obvious right answer. No matter which side wins, the country loses – the losing side won’t quietly get in line and move on to the next issue. Surely these issues are important and cannot be ignored – but we are hopelessly distracted by controversy, paralyzed by an endless series of debates that have no definitive answer.

President Obama has failed as a leader because – for one reason or another – he has failed to unify the country. Conservatives are hopelessly galvanized against him and his influence over them is lost. They will rally against his initiatives regardless of their merit.

If Mitt Romney gets elected, I can all but assure you the situation will not change – it will simply become the inverse. Republicans will sing his praises and Democrats will swear that the sky is falling.

Make no mistake – we are on the cusp of a crucial point in our nation’s history. The decisions that we collectively make in the next ten years will decide whether we will remain the preeminent economic powerhouse, whether we will maintain our position as the dominant superpower – a position we’ve enjoyed for the better part of the last century.

Now, more than ever, we need a true leader that can mend our national wounds, bridge the divide between right and left. We need a candidate that sidesteps the controversial issues altogether and focuses on accomplishing real, tangible, and monumental change – changes that the majority will support, changes that draw us together instead of drive us apart. I believe that a great leader would be silent on his or her opinions regarding issues like religion, marriage, abortion – issues that are unanswerable – and leave those issues for Congress and the court system.

I believe that we need a combination of constitutional amendments and policy overhauls to straighten our course and carry us into the next era of prosperity. Below, I’ve outlined some proposals to fix some of the systems that most of us can agree are broken. A leader that made a campaign platform around these five points would have cross-party appeal and, at the very least, would get my mail-in vote.

1. Balance the Budget

We look at the alarming national debt and ask ourselves, “how did it get this bad?”

It’s simple, really: we tend to elect politicians who improve our quality of life – i.e. spend more public money, and we tend not to reelect politicians that raise taxes. As a result, we spend more each year without increasing tax revenue, and the debt grows.

Warren Buffet came up with an elegant solution: “just pass a law that says that anytime there is a deficit of more than 3% of GDP, all sitting members of congress are ineligible for reelection.”

If we enact this, we’re going to have to balance the budget – that means cutting spending, and the reality is that some beneficial, important programs will be killed off. But that’s life, folks – you can’t have everything. We have to live within our means or we are going to die a slow death. No one said it was going to be easy.

2. End Unnecessary Subsidies

Look – I’m no anti-corporate, tree hugging hippy, but the top five oil companies took home $137 billion in profit in 2011. Why are we still subsidizing them with public funds?

It’s embarrassing that this is still up for debate.

3. Losing Parties Pay Legal Fees

If someone sues me and they lose, I still have to pay my own attorney fees.

If you think this is unreasonable, you’re in good company: every single other Western democracy agrees with you. They all follow the English Rule, which states that “the party who loses in court pays the other party’s attorney’s fees.”

This will eliminate a large percentage of ridiculous and unwarranted lawsuits, freeing up our court system (thus saving public money) and driving down the cost of all types of insurance (thus making health care and a wide range of other services more affordable).

4. Simplify the US Tax Code

There are thousands of deductions and credits that make the tax landscape phenomenally complicated. Savvy corporate accountants will continue to find and exploit loopholes faster than the government can close them.

Our government spends entirely too much time debating tax-related issues. Corporations spend too much time figuring out how to beat the system – instead of creating real, tangible innovations that would put the US in a better global position, they are distracted with trying to reap tax benefits.

I propose a flat corporate tax rate, the elimination of personal income taxes and state sales tax, and the introduction of a national sales tax. I’m sure it isn’t perfect, but we need something simple to allow us to focus on more important issues and actually get something accomplished in this country.

5. Campaign Finance Reform

The presidential election is a circus fueled by bottomless treasure chests.

Let’s fix it:

  • Eliminate contributions from private citizens and corporations
  • Establish a publicly-funded campaign budget that gives each candidate equal spending power – without strings attached
  • Abolish the Electoral College – the popular vote should determine the winner.

If we can’t find a candidate to step up to the plate, I’d be happy to do the job – but we’ll need to add another amendment to the list, as the Constitution sets the minimum age at 35 (I’m 26).

Until the next time – un abrazo fuerte, my friends.

Zack