Waiting for a Good Idea to Emerge

The nation needs inspiration to solve its biggest problems, but the presidential candidates haven’t offered much so far

By Elan Barnehama

The primaries continue to drag on and the election is not for another half a year, but I’m ready to call the race. Without any results having been reported, I can say with complete confidence that we the people have lost. Again.

After all the debates and with what started out as dozens of candidates drawn from our best and brightest political minds, not a single great idea – or even a very good idea – has emerged. I’m still waiting to hear something bold wrapped inside sensible that will make a difference in the direction our country is heading. I’m talking blatant self-interest here. I’m looking for someone to step up and improve our collective state of the union. I’m open to even a simple idea that makes common sense.

I’m waiting for the broad plan to bolster public transportation as a way of lessening the stress of higher gas prices, as a way of reducing our national consumption, as a way of reducing traffic and congestion, as a way of reducing our national road rage, as a way of cleaning up the air around us. Maybe we could even build all those extra buses (electric) and trains in U.S. factories and then hire U.S. workers to operate them.

I’m waiting to hear someone call for an end to outsourcing ANY military-related materials. I can’t believe anyone thought that was a good idea. Maybe they didn’t. Maybe they just found a way to make more money while wearing a flagpin on their lapel. Forget for a moment the lost jobs or taxpayer money spent abroad (though I don’t know why anyone would forget about those things) and focus on the added security risks and supply interruptions to which we have become vulnerable. I can hardly wait for that overseas phone call to the weapons supplier who puts the Pentagon on hold.

I’m waiting for a Work Projects Administration-inspired program to fix, upgrade and overhaul our bridges, tunnels and infrastructure – again, a great way to boost the economy – before we find ourselves responding to another series of catastrophes. Most economists agree that spending on infrastructure and education are the most effective uses of tax dollars and lead to growth in productivity.

And speaking of education, I’m past waiting. Over the last 20 years, spending in K-12 education rose by 33 percent while spending on prisons rose 571 percent. The number of U.S. schools increased by 3 percent while the number of U.S. prisons rose by 200 percent. While our schools continue to decline in international rankings, we’ve taken the world’s top spot in incarceration by putting more than 1 in 100 adults behind bars. Maybe I’m missing the big idea here. Maybe all that prison spending was a plan to solve the housing crisis.

The list goes on. But maybe when campaigning for the general election begins, someone will surprise us with a vision and a plan. Or maybe the problem is that it takes hundreds of millions of dollars to apply for the job of being our president, and frankly, the job has very long hours and doesn’t pay that well. So maybe we’re really not attracting our best and brightest candidates.

Elan Barnehama is a writer living in Western Massachusetts. He has taught at several colleges and was, most recently, a Senior Writer for Wesleyan University in Connecticut. His commentaries have aired on public radio and appeared in newspapers. E-mail Elan at: elan32@gmail.com.

2 thoughts on “Waiting for a Good Idea to Emerge”

  1. The candidates certainly deserve their share of the blame. So does the media. How much time can they keep on giving to a non idea like a temporary suspension of the 18 cent gas tax before they all shamble sheeplike to the next non issue?

    But the blame is really ours. We are failing as citizens, and are unfortunately getting exactly the kind of government we deserve . . . with no mercy in sight.


  2. No kidding. The voters are to blame. The pols just keep giving them what they want — more B.S. and empty promises.


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