Where is the country headed?
Polls now show President Bush to have the lowest approval rating (35%) of any sitting president since Nixon. Cheney's is even worse, hovering somewhere around 17%. Members of the administration are being scrutinized by a special prosecutor (and, of course, one has been indicted and is currently in court). Democrats in the Senate are pushing for a full investigation of how this administration may have misled Congress and the public in attempting to justify an invasion of Iraq.
But what's the real story here?
Is it possible that 9/11 was a plot to scare the American public, that it was indeed planned in advance as a way to shock the nation into supporting the agenda of an administration that sought to radically change the power structure and governance of the nation?
Even if this is not the case, is it relevant? Or is the more relevant thing what the administration has done since 9/11 using the authority granted to it by the public in the name of fighting terrorism?
I think the latter. The former can invite charges of "conspiracy theorism," whereas the latter is a more pure examination of known facts. Which we should examine here:
Fact 1: Following 9/11, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan.
Analysis: Ostensibly, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan because this was the country, controlled by the Taliban, where the Al-Quaeda training camps were located that trained the terrorists who piloted the airplanes into the World Trade Center. The back story, from what I can gather, is that Afghanistan was out of control politically, and U.S. corporate interests desparately needed the territory to fall under U.S. political control so as to enable an energy pipeline to transfer energy to our markets without passing through Russia's sphere of influence. Also, there was much speculation that Afghanistan might have harbored massive energy reserves beneath its soil, though this speculation turned out to be false.
Fact 2: Following Afghanistan, the U.S. invaded Iraq.
Analysis: There's no disputing that the U.S. was seeking regime change and direct access to Iraq's oil reserves, and that the "Weapons of Mass Destruction" thing was really just a ruse. Is there an even deeper back story, or is this enough? The invasion of another country in order to overthrow their president and take their natural resources, not to mention bomb their cities, destroy their already-limping economy and throw their society into open civil war, is likely an illegal act under international law. Does this matter? Not if the U.S. is the only contry able to enforce international law on the world scene. It does matter if we are deemed vulnerable to world opinion, however. It can also hurt our economic and social interests, which will ultimately have an effect on our military abilities in the long run.
Fact 3: The Republicans control all three branches of the United States Federal Government.
Analysis: What happened to the balance/separation of power laid out in the Constitution, in which each branch of government is supposed to balance out the other two? This balance is crumbling. Congressional oversight of the executive branch is very weak at this point. The ability of the judiciary to operate in an environment that is impartial and free from political influence is severely compromised, and will only get worse with Bush's new addition to the Supreme Court.
Fact 4: More bicycles were sold in the past year than automobiles in this country.
Analysis: High oil prices, combined with Lance Armstrong's victories in the Tour de France, expanded national bicycle infrastructure and a general movement towards bicycling have combined to propel bicycles to the forefront of American society. Both candidates for president in 2004 rode bicycles and courted the bicycle vote. Bicycle infrastructure is expanding nationwide, as is bicycle usage. Where bicycle facilities are built that form a part of a connected bicycle network, they are used. The mantra most definitely is, "if you build it they will ride it." Bicycles give their riders feelings of empowerment and self-confidence, and bicycle usage can reduce automobile usage. Will bicycles save the planet? I'm not sure the planet, per se, is what needs saving. But, bicycles may help us save ourselves, and certainly will give us all better-looking (and feeling) arses.
Fact 5: Smart Growth/New Urbanism is picking up momentum in this country in the same way that suburban ranch-style development picked up momentum following World War Two.
Analysis: While the development of suburbs has not slowed, there is a definite momentum towards growing smarter, with more mixed-use communities that are proximate to transit and feature amenities more commonly found in urban neighborhoods. Social isolation is a huge problem afflicting traditional suburbs, so I believe that this trend towards smarter growth will wind up turning out smarter, more sociable people.
Fact 6: Americans tend to lag in their geographic knowledge behind their world peers.
Analysis: As the 21st century emerges from the shadow of the 20th, it is quite clear that America is the dominant superpower on the world political scene. For the country that more or less is in charge of the affairs of the rest of the world, America's population seems to be quite clueless about what is really going on outside of this country's borders. This has severe implications for the ability of this country to produce new leaders with an understanding of the countries that they will interact with on the world scene. To the extent that we cannot run roughshod over ever single international negotiation, and even regardless of this ability, this has serious implications for the political future of the nation. Our leaders must have at least a basic understanding of the dynamics of the countries that we interact with, so that they do not appear to be fools or worse when acting on the world stage.
You're hoping I've got some brilliant, simple analysis that ties all of this together, right?
Well, it's not quite that easy.
But there are some things that will make it better.
Solution 1. America needs to migrate from a two-party system to a multi-party system.
Analysis: The current political problems are largely due to the ability of the Republicans to marginalize and ridicule the Democrats. The Democrats, having become impotent, are unable to attract swing or undecided voters because they're seen as being a bunch of wimps with no good ideas. What's needed is a third party, for example the Green Party, to march onto the national scene (ESPECIALLY in the House of Representatives, but also in the Senate) in a major way. This third party could then form a governing coalition with the Democrats, one that positions the Democrats as a true centrist party relative to the Republicans on the right and the Greens on the left. The Democrats could then be free to let go of some of their more liberal members, and focus on a much more centrist message of providing a social safety net and balancing the national budget without raising taxes on working-class Americans. The Greens could focus on a message of environmental protectionism, drug law reform, prison reform, military reduction, greenhouse gas emissions reduction, global warming mitigation, alternative energy and all the other strategies that the Democrats are nervous about pursuing for fear of being seen as too "liberal."
Solution #2: Proportional representation and/or open primaries.
Analysis: Open primaries are the concept that anybody could place a vote in any primary, as long as they only vote once. A Republican could vote for the more moderate Democrat in a race where the Republican would want to see that person on the ballot against their candidate in the fall. Also, a Green could vote for a Democrat that more closely reflected the views of the Green. Finally, a Green could run in the primary alongside the Democrat and the Republican, and draw votes from each. A runoff election would be held between the top two vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation. Proportional representation (this page has a lot of information on the concept) has many flavors. One of them involves basically grouping districts together. A voter is then presented with a ballot that lists all the candidates under the heading of their party. The vote is taken; each person only votes for one candidate and one party. The votes are counted. If there are 10 seats up for election, and the Republicans take 41% of the vote, the Democrats 41%, and the Greens 18%, then the Greens would get two seats, the Republicans would get four seats and the Democrats four seats. The Greens would then be allowed to send their top two vote-getters to office, whereas the Republicans and Democrats would each be able to send their top four vote-getters. The end result is that for this hypothetical ten-seat legislature, the Democrats and the Greens could form a governing coalition with 60% of the vote, but no one party could control the agenda.
Solution 3: More livable communities with more bicycle facilities
Analysis: Our nation is extremely wealthy, but this fact is not necessarily reflected in the physical infrastructure of the country. We can do better, and we must. More trees, more vegetation, more bicycle routes, more compact developments with more services within walking/bicycling distance and more access to transit will give us a better-informed, more social and healthier population that is better prepared to come together and create the community alliances that will be necessary to see us through to a peaceful conclusion of the 21st century.
More to come.