Having written nine blogs for The Huffington Post, I am pleased by the diverse responses they have elicited. Clearly we all want change. Judging from some of the comments, however, before I continue with additional posts, it may be useful to provide some personal context.
I am -- or more precisely was -- a member of the Democratic Party. Although I consider Abraham Lincoln our greatest president, my earliest political heroes were FDR, Harry Truman, John and Bobby Kennedy. I have a positive view of the role of government. My father was a civil servant, and I was brought up in Washington D.C. in the 1960s, when government did important and admirable things.
In 1998 I ran in the Democratic primary for governor of California. I ran on a platform of "change" and cautioned my fellow Californians that this was "the last helicopter out of Saigon; if we don't change the way we do things, we will soon reach a point of no return." Among the things I highlighted: the scandalous deteriorations of our schools, the stratification of society and growing income disparity, and a bloated, dysfunctional, and corrupt government and political class. I lost to Gray Davis.
The Democratic Party, in my mind, has lost its way. I can understand the initial appeal of a Barack Obama but consider it political malpractice to place the likes of Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid in the presidential line of succession and install Debbie Wasserman Schultz as a spokesperson. Alternatively, I have always found the Republican Party intolerant and extreme. Consequently, I am now a registered independent.
My first blog unequivocally stated my views:
Republicans prefer an unregulated society indifferent to the interests of the less fortunate where solutions to problems are largely limited to cutting taxes, shrinking government, and opposing nearly all public sector endeavors.
They provide neither positive vision of what government should do nor appreciation that, as society becomes more complex, our mutual dependence increases. ....
Democrats counter with an equally extreme vision: a collective welfare state adverse to the requirements for economic growth, where income redistribution, indiscriminate government expansion, and absolution from personal responsibility seem the operative solutions. This is individualism without the individual.
I recently resumed writing and speaking because I believe that California offers a cautionary tale for the country. Income disparity is getting worse as we continue to misallocate our public resources and fail to invest in human capital. The federal government, like California's, is "bloated, dysfunctional, and corrupt." Our political leadership has devolved into a collection of technicians that have mastered the electoral process but are sorely equipped to make substantive decisions and lead the process of change necessary to adapt to a 21st-century world. Our two national political parties mirror their extreme "Orange County" and "San Francisco" counterparts, championing rigid ideology over common sense. Small wonder only 15 percent of Americans have confidence in the federal government.
I am no apologist for business or Wall Street but plead guilty to considering a "properly regulated market" a pretty decent vehicle for encouraging efficiency and penalizing waste, incompetence, and fraud. If government would enforce our laws and stop engaging in cronyism -- bailing out failed, irresponsible financial institutions, providing support to select political favorites like Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, green energy start-ups, and "friendly" auto, pharmaceutical, telecommunications, and insurance companies -- many of the bad actors and inefficiencies in the private sector would self-correct. Government has a responsibility to regulate industry, not engage in further corrupting it.
Many people want to blame the supplicants: corporations, labor unions, trial lawyers, insurance companies, or wealthy individuals like the Koch brothers or George Soros. I say "baloney." If you are elected to public office or occupy an appointed or civil service position, you have a fiduciary responsibility to serve the best interest of your constituents -- all of them. That's what leadership is about. People can legitimately argue that there is too much money in politics, but one thing is certain: there is too little character.
We do not have to accept our present caliber of leadership or a politics that avoids hard choices. I reject the notion that we cannot find common ground. We have to replace ineffective, self-interested, and divisive leaders and take a more active role in setting a political agenda that serves our collective best interests. That's why I will continue to write and speak, and why I have incorporated for discussion my own ideas for a common-sense agenda, "A Declaration for Independence," which can be accessed at www.jointogetheramerica.org.
Al Checchi is chairman of Join Together America, the former chairman of Northwest Airlines, and a former candidate for Governor of California. His new book is The Change Maker.
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