David is a member of the Junior State of America (JSA), a student-run political awareness organization for high school students.
Modern politics is plagued by a deadly polarization. America has come to a point where we do or die. The longer we stagnate, the harder we fall. On January 1, the United States will cross the fiscal cliff, leading to sequestration and ultimately, recession and an unemployment rate of 9.1 percent in 2013, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Long-term economic problems are equally damning: CBO estimates that Medicate, Medicare and Social Security will consume America's budget by 2036.
On one thing, the two parties agree: Crossing the fiscal cliff will be disastrous for our economy, not to mention the morale of our nation, the stability of our financial markets, and our perception in the international community. But rather than compromise in order to solve our nation's problems, Democrats and Republicans alike stick to dogmatism, spewing the party line, and blaming each other for the failure in negotiations.
As debate trumps compromise, solutions are obsolete. The root problem is the competitive culture that is the basis of modern politics -- the idea that Republicans and Democrats see each other as "the enemy" rather than as partners with the ultimate goal of serving the citizens of the United States.
This is a view cultivated in students from a very young age. Look no farther than a high school. Popular political groups include the Debate Team, Young Democrats, Young Republicans, Student for Liberty and the Junior State of America. Every group is focused on winning: Whether it's about winning debate tournaments, best speaker awards, or even elections, no one focuses on working with the opposition, only alienating them.
This year, the Northeast State of the Junior State took a different approach. We decided that teaching students the value of compromise -- how to work together with your opponents to solve tough political issues -- is a much more valuable skill than winning a debate. In the real world, no one cares who is right. We care who legislates. Ask yourself the simple question: Would you prefer a Congressman who won every debate he engaged in, but failed to pass constructive legislation, or one who knew how to compromise?
In a new activity known as Solution Central, students were forced to converge on a solution to the fiscal cliff. Here are the rules for the political simulation: Two main speakers represent opposing political party leaders (John Boehner and President Obama for example), with firm positions about the issues facing America. Using three-minute speeches, moderated-caucuses, and un-moderated caucuses, the audience is responsible for developing a proposed solution to the topic. In order to pass, the proposal must be agreed upon by 50 percent of the audience and BOTH main speakers.
The 100 students engaging in the activity were given ample time to research beforehand, and even to discuss their ideas with one another. On November 17, they met at the Northeast Fall State to engage in a productive dialogue.
The results speak for themselves: The audience and both main speakers overwhelmingly agreed on a plan to avert the fiscal cliff. The following is their rough plan for solving the debt crisis:
• Split the top income bracket into three parts. Raise taxes on the top bracket, and maintain current tax rates for the other two
• Stop the ZIRP (zero interest rate policy) and stop monetizing private and public debt
• Allow the use of social benefit bonds to reform spending programs and military (tax deductable)
• Lower corporate tax rates from 35 to 20 percent
• End the Federal Housing Administration but keep Fannie and Freddy public
• Legalize and tax marijuana
• Establish a repatriation holiday
• Stop insuring student debt
• Begin across-the-board spending cuts
• Increase investment in education
As Congress continues to stagnate, our generation is faced with the hard reality of a bleak future. But we have the opportunity to change the tone of the national discussion by moving away from debate for the sake of debate, and moving toward compromise. Will we always be right? Of course not. But if we start learning the value of working together to achieve constructive solutions while only in high school, this country will be a lot better off when it's our turn to set the political agenda.