December 21, 2007
Over the years I have stayed out of the political fray. Much like religion, politics is polarizing. Even in a friendly environment with those who are adamant about an issue or a candidate, political discussions can result in tempers flaring and, very often, friends and relatives screaming at each other. In the past, because I value family and friends, I have publicly stayed away from these conversations.
This year, however, I feel compelled to bring to these pages, my personal observations on the important issues of our time. It seems that as I grow older - in years only - feel the need to publish these thoughts, for clarity, and for future generations of the Kontras Family.
Historically Speaking
Those that know me now may find this hard to believe, but I voted for Ronald Reagan.
I certainly did not agree with him many issues. My reason for voting for Reagan was that I thought the country needed a unifying leader at the time. On the surface, he appealed to many on all sides of the political spectrum. Truth-be-known, I think most of his policies were not good for the country. One major example: By reducing taxes on only the highest income earners in our country ("Trickle-Down Economics") he created a huge gap in income for the government that was offset by doing such things as: reducing budgets on a variety of critical social programs that benefited those less fortunate in our country, taxing Social Security income for the first time, de-regulating the airline industry and the portions of the banking industry, reducing funding for food inspection programs and educational programs, and even threatening the individual states with reducing their government sponsored highway improvement funds if they did not reduce the speed limit to 55mph.
Even with all of these reductions in costs, this country continued further into debt. Many of these reductions adversely affected the middle and lower income wage earners of our country. By reducing government funding for so many state and local programs, individual states, counties and cities had to raise their taxes to try to keep these programs alive. Property taxes, sales taxes, state and local income taxes, all drastically increased nationwide. New fees were introduced for many services that were previously provided by the government for those less fortunate. These tax increases drastically affected 80 to 90 percent of the income earners in this country. I remember the term "shrinking middle class" being used quite a bit during these years. George H. W. Bush was dubbed "Reagan Lite" as he continued the fiscal policies after the 1988 election. He had promised no new taxes, but later had to go back on that promise because the national debt and the budget deficit were growing too rapidly. By the end of his term, we were in a recession.
There was improvement in the 1990s when Bill Clinton was President. By reversing some Reagan's tax cuts, the income to the government increased and within the eight years of his presidency, the middle class started thriving again, and the government was paying its bills.
Personal Revelations
During the Reagan years, I realized how important it is to really examine our candidates' views on the issues, learn to "read between the lines" when viewing or reading their speeches, and understand the consequences of any programs they intend to introduce if they become President of the United States. Using labels such as "Liberal", "Conservative", "Republican" and "Democrat" began to mean very little to me. This period also cemented some of the thoughts that I now have about how our government should work and what it should and should not provide for its citizens.
SOME OF THE THINGS I BELIEVE GOVERNMENT SHOULD DO: (1) I believe that it is government's responsibility to keep our citizens safe, not just with National Security and military power, but with (2) strictly enforced guidelines for any type of mass transportation and its infrastructure (which includes roadways, waterways and "...the friendly skies...") and (3) for any type of financial institutions (including insurance companies) that work with citizens' money. (4) The government should fund and oversee the quality of, any program that helps lift up those less fortunate, those who are physically and/or mentally challenged, and the elderly. (5) Quality healthcare for every citizen should be completely funded for providers, removing the profit incentives that have skyrocketed costs to levels that leave so many uninsured. There can still be choice in the healthcare system, and subsidies for those who cannot afford quality healthcare. All pre-existing condidtions should be covered. The emphasis should be on early, preventative healthcare, which has shown time and time again to drastically reduce medical costs. (6) Education for our children Pre-K thru 12 should be entirely funded, with individual states using the money as they deem necessary to maintain a quality, well-rounded education for all of our younger citizens. (7) Government should provide strict guidelines for firearms ownership, while keeping the 2nd Amendment intact. (8) Food and drug laws - and guidelines - should be very strict and strictly enforced by the government. No exceptions.
SOME OF THE THINGS I BELIEVE GOVERNMENT SHOULD NOT DO: (1) Government should not legislate morality. For example: abortion rights. This is an issue that must be decided by each individual, not by government. The truth of the matter is that although nearly 100% of our population is against abortion, a great majority of the same people also believe that it should be a personal choice. Another example is (2) gay marriage. Again, this is an issue that should never be legislated by the federal government. Individual states are better able to work with this issue and arrive at decisions that best suit their residents. (3) Government should never be involved in deciding elections. Elections belong to the people, not the judiciary.
I've been told that these views mean that I am, somehow, for "big government." Nothing could be further from the truth. The money we've spent to date fighting an unecessary war - over $800B - would more than pay for all of what I suggested above. If we are going to live in both a "free" and "lawful" society, it must also be a well-regulated society. In an unregulated, totally "free" society, it is easy for some to take unfair advantage of others, for their own personal gain. Government needs to protect its citizens from these types of actions. With regulations and funding in these areas, citizens can make decisions about healthcare, finance, education, etc., without fear of being "duped" in the process.
In general, I believe we don't mind paying taxes for those things that make our lives a little easier and safer. We do however, want our voices heard and not quieted by large corporations who currently appear to be helping to create legislation that favors only them, and not our citizens. This country belongs to all of us, not just the the top 2% of the wage-earners and their businesses.
If we are going to call ourselves the "richest" and "most powerful" country in the world, we should do everything we can to lift up all of our citizens so that anyone has the opportunity to experience the American Dream, if they are willing work for it. A rising tide should lift all ships. Lately, that has not been the case.
How I See Where We Are Now
Late this year, it became quite apparent that the Republican Party, under the presidency of George W. Bush, is self-destructing.
The "Bush Doctrine" has greatly diminished our ability to be the beacon of peace and hope in the world. We no longer have the favor of many nations. Domestically, the growing debt of our government is slowly causing our dollar to weaken, which will certainly raise the cost of everything in this country, exponentially. There are many reasons for the debt: The Iraq "War" is probably the single largest reason because we are borrowing the money from China to fund it. In addition, major corporations are moving their businesses to other countries, where labor is far cheaper, which then decreases the tax revenues going to the government, thereby causing even more "borrowing." Companies are also out-sourcing many services within their organizations to other countries, again decreasing tax revenues for our country. Wall Street is doing "well" because by cutting their payroll by tens of thousands of jobs and millions, even billions of dollars, big companies decrease their expenses which then raises their profits, attracting more investors. This is trickle-down economics at its worst. It didn't work during Ronald Reagan's tenure and it's not working now.
Can We Really Change?
Next year's election is by far the most important in my lifetime. I believe many people feel the same way. We have an opportunity to make a difference (in 2008) more than in any previous presidential election. To be sure, no one person can make all the changes that he or she promises in a campaign. They may have the best of intentions and plans, but they have to work with congress to get them implemented. They will always be faced with resistance, regardless of how many allies they have. Building political coalitions that go beyond party and ideology is very difficult, but not impossible.
Is there someone in the current line-up of would-be presidents that has this ability?
I believe there is...