The state of the Union: Strong, but we worry

West Words

by Tom West

Editor/General Manager

Tom West, West Words
Tom West, West Words

President Obama will be delivering his State of the Union address this week. If it is anything like the last 40 or so such speeches, it will be three times as long as necessary, ignored by many and promptly forgotten by the rest.

Always trying to be helpful, here’s my suggestion for what the president ought to say, keeping it to five minutes:

My fellow Americans, I am glad to announce that the state of our experiment in self-government remains strong. We have concerns and worries, but at this time we have no crises of survival. (I would define such crises in our history as the War of 1812 when the British burned down the White House, the Civil War, World Wars I and II and the Great Depression.)

We have never been free of worry or angst because that is the nature of life’s vicissitudes. Such is our time now.

But if I may, I’d like to outline a half dozen concerns we all ought to remain focused upon. These concerns are significant enough that, if they are not addressed, any one of them can grow into an existential crisis.

1. Nuclear proliferation. I am glad to report that because of international sanctions Iran is pulling back from its unilateral pursuit of nuclear weapons. We now have a plan in place which, if it works, will preserve the peace and alleviate some of the danger that would result if Iran ends up with nukes.

It is one thing for democratically elected nation-states to have the bomb; it is quite another to put it in the hands of an egomaniacal dictator or religious zealots who think they will be sending us all to hell even as it also sends them off to paradise.

2. Partisanship run amok. A true democracy works only on a level playing field in which opposing viewpoints get heard. Too many partisans are now trying to slant the field, not only with regulations that discourage participation, but also with threats and intimidation. Whether it is Democrats singling out Republicans for IRS harassment or Republicans closing traffic lanes to punish Democratic officials, everyone should remember that this government was established to serve the public, not attack it. All who use the government to intimidate political foes should be dealt with harshly.

3. Data privacy. While terrorism remains a concern, the idea that the government would gather and store information about every American, the vast majority of them law-abiding, is more dangerous. We have no assurance that such information will not end up being used to curtail our freedoms. We need to adhere to a stricter reading of the Fourth Amendment, demanding probable cause for individual search warrants, and end the data dumping.

4. Mushrooming federal debt. The national debt is the insidious elephant in the room. We have had only one year, 1835, when the nation was debt free, but we always managed to keep it under control — until about 30 years ago.

Debt is insidious because, like a frog in boiling water, we don’t realize the danger until it is too late. A crisis could materialize overnight, causing interest rates to rise and giving the government no choice but to inflate the dollar until it is almost worthless to pay the interest, or to repudiate the debt, thus putting an end to all of the government’s social programs because nobody will lend money to people who won’t or can’t repay it.

5. Health care. The reasonable belief that everyone should have access to health care conflicts with our ability to pay for it. The Affordable Care Act increased the demand for health care, but did little to increase the supply of it. The inevitable result is that prices will continue upward.

Some will point to a temporary dip in the increase, but it will be temporary because the fundamental economic flaws in an overregulated industry have not been addressed.

Our politicians have found that giving us more benefits than we are willing to pay for and putting the cost on the national credit card is a good re-election strategy. Don’t let them get away with that.

6. Education. The United States is not competing well internationally in academics. If we don’t demand more from our students in the classroom, they won’t be able to compete in a global economy where knowledge is king. Don’t blame schools or teachers; it’s the expectation of parents that counts, and they need to do more than demand good athletic teams.

Thank you, and now back to your regular programming.

Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Record. Reach him at (320) 616-1932 or email [email protected]