Essays on American politics and foreign policy
By Donald E. Nuechterlein
Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist
and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the
author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy,
- Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
- America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
- A Cold War Odyssey, 1997
VOTERS NEED STRAIGHT TALK FROM CANDIDATES IN ELECTION YEAR
John McCain's "straight talk express" a year ago earned him accolades for his courageous stands on major issues such as the Iraq war, illegal immigration, and campaign finance reform.. Many Republicans criticized him for cooperating with Democrats on the immigration issue.
This year voters are in need of more straight talk on crucial issues that challenge our nation. Here are six realities that urgently need serious public attention.
- America's declining economic power. The sharp downturn in the U.S. economy could be more prolonged and severe than anticipated. The rapid drop in the dollar's value is causing anxiety among international investors who may shift to the euro to conduct international business. The dollar's decline also leads to sharp rises in world oil prices, which are calculated in dollars. Huge U.S. trade imbalances, particularly with China, contribute to worry among international bankers over America's financial stability.
- Cost of U.S. world-wide security commitments. The Defense Department has military bases and facilities in more than one hundred countries around the world. Military and economic assistance to friendly governments add to U.S. international security outlays. In addition, the intelligence community maintains a world-wide network of spies and listening posts to collect information and influence the policies of foreign governments. These military and clandestine operations are hugely costly, and the next president must decide whether all of them are required for national security.
- Escalating costs of health care and social security. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are pledged to provide universal health care for Americans. But they are less clear about the large budget increases that will be required Costs of Medicare have reached alarming proportions, and the Social Security system faces financial crisis as the boomer generation retires. Republicans and Democrats acknowledge that tough choices on costs must be made, but neither party will risk alienating seniors in this election year.
- Modernizing the transportation system. Many metropolitan areas across the country face gridlock conditions on roads and streets because of a huge increase in motor vehicle traffic and resistance by local and state governments to pay for new roads. An example is northern Virginia, where traffic congestion has reached crisis proportions. Yet, funding for a rapid transit line through the congested Tyson's Corner area remains mired in disputes about how the costs will be apportioned. Should the federal government take over responsibility for building additional rapid transit systems around the country? A precedent was set in the 1950s with the federally-funded interstate highway system.
- Dealing with the illegal immigrant population. Congress failed last year to enact urgently needed legislation because many Republican opposed what they called "amnesty for illegals." Three presidential aspirants--McCain, Clinton, and Obama--supported the legislation, as did President Bush. But the country now faces a dangerous dilemma over how to handle twelve million illegal persons already in the country. This is both a national security and an economic crisis that must be resolved soon.
- Iraq and Afghanistan.. George Bush refuses to speculate on when U.S. forces might leave Iraq. He recently sent additional troops to Afghanistan because our European allies, except Britain and the Netherlands, declined to increase their forces or permit them to engage in combat. John McCain favors a long-term U.S. commitment to both countries. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama intend to quickly withdraw the troops from Iraq and pressure European allies to bolster their forces in Afghanistan. The massive costs of current troop deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan require straight talk from the presidential candidates this year.
It is essential, in my view, that Americans be told the hard truth about our country's serious financial situation. Otherwise, voters will persist in thinking that no hard choices need to be made on national security priorities, pressing domestic needs, and increased taxes to pay for both. A sharp drop in the dollar, the growing specter of inflation, and the potential for a prolonged credit crisis urgently require that candidates give the public a strong dose of medicine about the stark realities facing this country.
John McCain could precipitate the debate by telling voters they can't have both "guns and butter," and pledge an overhall of the Social Security and Medicare systems in order to pay for continued strong defense. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama should tell voters that everyone will have to pay higher taxes to enjoy universal health care and social security benefits. Adding to federal budget deficits is no longer an option.
Will this candid debate occur in an election year? We should insist on it.
File last modified on Monday, 14-MAR-2008 12:01 AM EST