“I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.” — Thomas Paine
Last Sunday the New York Times ran a “If I Were President” piece on the opinion pages. It appears the Times selected certain of their favorite opinion writers to pen a paragraph or two on what they would do if they were the President of the United States. It’s quite a clever presentation as you can move your mouse of the likeness of the writer and a secondary dialogue box will open showing something about the writer. When you click on the image the writers contribution to the Times piece will open along with some background on the writer.
Playing the “what if” game is always fun. You might have some thoughts on what you would do if you were president, the manager or coach of your favorite baseball or football team or you won the Power Ball Lottery. I know I do, often in the shower. Here are a few examples of what the Time’s selected contributors had to say in the “what if” game.
Michael J. Sandel, Harvard professor and the author of “Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?”
“I would lead a campaign against the skyboxification of American life. Not long ago, the ballpark was a place where C.E.O.’s and mailroom clerks sat side by side, and everyone got wet when it rained. Today, most stadiums have corporate skyboxes, which cosset the privileged in air-conditioned suites, far removed from the crowd below. Something similar has happened throughout our society. The affluent retreat from public schools, the military, and other public institutions, leaving fewer and fewer class-mixing places. Rich and poor increasingly live separate lives.
I would invest in an infrastructure for civic renewal — not just roads and bridges, but schools, transit, playgrounds, parks, community centers, health clinics, libraries and national service. This would put people to work. And it would draw us out of our skyboxes and into the common spaces of democratic citizenship.”
So Mr. Sandel wants us to get out of our “Skyboxes” and mix with the folks. I wonder if Mr. Sandel spends much time with the folks in “fly-over” country. It sounds like he would like more communal living. That did not work out well in the former Soviet Union.
Sharon Olds, Author of “Strike Sparks: Selected Poems 1980-2002”:
“I’d grant the very rich the boon of helping them help others, as a form of gratitude for their good fortune. I’d also connect every creative writing program with a hospital, a school, a library, a prison, a neighborhood center — workshops in the supermarkets! (“Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!”)”
Umh, helping people in gratitude for their good fortune. I thought that was what churches did. Can’t you see teaching creative writing to the MS 13 gang members incarcerated in San Quentin? Oh well, what would you expect from a poet.
Andrew Weil, Founder of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine and author of “Why Our Health Matters”:
“I’d tell the nation that I was powerless to control the war machine, Wall Street, big oil and the other interests that run the country, and I would urge Americans to form a new political party not beholden to them.”
I think Mr. Weil should stick to medicine. We formed a new party a few years ago, it was called the Republican Party and we have a new movement towards reforming the parties, it’s called the Tea Party.
Geoffrey Canada, President of Harlem Children’s Zone:
“I would have a “grown-up” talk with the American people, emphasizing that we are facing a crisis and solving it will require a spirit of shared sacrifice. Those of us who have benefited mightily from this country and made billions, as well as those who make the minimum wage, must all sacrifice.
The social contract that we have taken for granted must be updated given our tough economic challenges, and all of us must now pay our great country back — giving more than we anticipated just a year ago. Those who can give a lot must do so; those of more modest means must also do their part.
All our sacred cows must be reconsidered: Medicare, tax breaks for corporations, Social Security, tax cuts for the wealthy and middle class, military spending, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But there is one group that we must protect at all costs — our children. We must sacrifice so that our children won’t inherit a country that is less than the one our parents left us. Our march toward equity and equality cannot be sacrificed. God bless America and God bless America’s children!”
Mr. Canada makes a few good points, but the social contract talk sounds very progressive and liberal to me.
James Dyson, Inventor and founder of the James Dyson Foundation:
“I would get America back to what it does best: take risks. Or rather, the right type of risks. The United States was founded on brave, bold and untested inventions, not financial gambles. Real engineering, not endless economic engineering.
The United States still spends more than any other nation on research and development. But others are moving up, not least China. America needs to inspire a new generation of risk takers. And it starts in school.
No Child Left Behind “rates” children and schools arbitrarily through multiple choice questions. Standardization and rote learning lead to sub-standard results because they don’t inspire or challenge. My solution: get rid of binary right and wrong answers. Experimentation is learning. Only through making mistakes do we find out what works, what to do differently and how to get better. Box-ticking does not correlate with world winning. Certificates won’t beat global competition. Creativity will. Engineering and science will. Patents will. Let’s inspire children by giving them the freedom to get things wrong. By fostering an environment where learning through failure is celebrated, the United States can get back to ongoing success — making mistakes, making things.”
Now this guy is getting more to where I would want to go. Real engineering yes, social engineering no. Albeit Mr. Dyson was born in England and could not be president (unless he could produce a Hawaiian birth certificate) he still is on the right track. He made a billion dollars with his vacuum cleaner so I guess he knows business. Perhaps he could be the head of the Department of Education, if we keep it.
Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrophysicist, Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History, and host of NOVA Science NOW:
“The question implies that if you swap out one, put in another, then all will be well with America — as though our leaders are the cause of all ailments.
When you’re scientifically literate, the world looks different. Science provides a particular way of questioning what you see and hear. When empowered by this state of mind, objective realities matter. These are the truths on which good governance should be based and which exist outside of particular belief systems.
Our government doesn’t work — not because we have dysfunctional politicians, but because we have dysfunctional voters. As a scientist and educator, my goal, wouldn’t be to lead a dysfunctional electorate, but to bring an objective reality to the electorate so it could choose the right leaders in the first place.”
Wow, dysfunctional electorate. I think Mr. Tyson has spent too much time looking at the stars. How do we educate the voters to elect the “right leaders?”
Patricia Ryan Madson, Author of “Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up”:
“I would invite all of the members of Congress to join me in an improvisation retreat. We would spend the time practicing saying “yes” to each other and really listening to one another’s offers. We would create stories of well-being. We would encourage thinking “inside the box.” We would look for innovative ways to use the resources at hand to solve our problems. We would make some mistakes, and we would laugh a lot. Real laughter has been absent in the White House lately.”
Yes, a retreat. We could all hold hands, sing Kumbaya and roast marshmallows. As for laughter in the White House I think Obama is laughing at us all the time.
You can go through the rest of the group on your own. It might be fun.
After reading the desires from the 12 contributors I found a few things missing from their “what ifs.” The number one thing missing was mention of the Constitution. Not one of them wished for a return to constitutional government and our founding principles. A few other things they did not mention were; Adherence to the Constitution and our founding principles, the rule of law, liberty, and fiscal responsibility.
So what would I do if I were president? First of all the President has limited power under the Constitution. He must work with Congress on fiscal matters and his/her main charge is to protect and defend the Constitution and the people of the United States. With this in mind here are a few things I would do:
Firstly I would work diligently to secure our borders and protect our citizens from the invasion of drug smugglers and illegal aliens.
Secondly I would work with Congress to reduce spending and curtail the onerous regulations that have been imposed of the people, regulations from light bulbs to fuel standards.
Thirdly I would get the government out of the education business and curtail the government monopoly of education by eliminating the Department of Education.
Fourthly I would appoint an Attorney General dedicated to the rule of law, the law for all people. I would also appoint federal judges dedicated to the Constitution.
Fifthly I would reduce the size of the federal government by eliminating agencies and programs that are bloated and threaten the liberty of the people. I would reduce government employees by 25% across the board and privatize and outsource as much as I could.
Sixthly I would regularly tell the people what I am doing and why I am doing it. I would end this class warfare nonsense and allow the American people to be the best they could be without government on their neck.
Seventhly I would open all lands and off shore leases to oil drilling so we could begin reducing our dependency on OPEC for our oil and natural gas.
Eighthly I would encourage the return of the home building industry by restoring confidence in the economy and reducing the onerous regulations on the builders.
And lastly I would cut every government handout program and allow the people to become self-sufficient without government money. If the states and local governments want to continue these programs so be it, it’s their right to do so.
There are many more things I would do like reducing our involvement in the UN, rebuilding and maintaining our infrastructure, and closing oversees bases that are no longer needed.
I know this sounds pretty draconian and would take some time so you will have to grant me two terms and a conservative Congress. In time we could return the thinking and things that made the United States great, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness