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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The Self Shelf: The elephants in the Room

Published: October 22, 2010
Section: Opinions

I feel as if I am never more than five minutes away from an election argument. It is all the rage these days–will the Democrats lose Congress, how will Obama react, is Christine O’Donnell a witch? These questions dominate the 24-hour news cycle like first-years at Sherman. You cannot escape them and all other news is shunted to the side. Yet I do not think that the first question on Americans’ minds is whether Nancy Pelosi will keep her seat or not, nor is the burning mystery whether or not Carl Paladino’s public relations person has committed ritual suicide yet. No, I think the true question on the American brain is when the country will finally wake up from this nightmarish new reality.

You may think I am talking about the economy. Indeed I am, but it plays only a part of the hellish status quo. Yet it is certainly a good starting point. Unemployment at around 10 percent is a national disaster. Anyone who claims that the recession is ending need only look at the fact that, counting discouraged workers, our unemployment rate is up around 15 percent. This means that around 20 million people are out of work. That does not take into account the myriad more who are working part-time jobs they are overqualified for. And, as we teeter on the edge of a second straight recession due to the debt crisis in Europe, the night has not nearly lifted.

Meanwhile we face a globe filled with countries more scared than we are. States like China, among others, are instituting protectionist policies to an alarming extent. The United States, in the mean time, has remained largely passive. We chastise but we do not act–and we suffer accordingly. Yet these particular economic problems are not really campaign issues–instead it is overshadowed by the issue of who did and did not support the stimulus. As if who did and did not support it matters at this point–studies say it helped but it did not do nearly enough. I want to hear someone propose another policy besides cutting taxes or using more stimulus. Honestly, I think it is time we heard something different, something more comprehensive, something that revitalizes the confidence of the American people in their government.

But our problems are not limited to the economic sphere. There is also the war in Afghanistan coupled with our global struggle against terrorism (I really do not care what name you call it by). We seem to be doing our best impression of the British Empire and Soviet Union in Afghanistan insofar as more troops does not a liberal democracy in a state characterized by tribal fragmentation make. Yet, and perhaps I have not been paying enough attention, I have not heard of the war being used as a campaign issue whatsoever. Shouldn’t a war in which more than 100 thousand American troops are fighting for their lives at least merit a mention at the end of a stump speech?

I do not propose to propose a solution for the situation (that is another column) but I do not have to. Someone who is running for Congress should have to. Meanwhile, efforts to combat terrorism go unaddressed to a spectacular extent. As I mentioned two weeks ago, the president of the United States just put a kill order out on an American citizen. Yet this is not a campaign issue–instead we hear things like the idea that the separation of church and state is not in the Constitution. This is ludicrous–these are important issues and they warrant a mention now and again by the people who are supposed to be running this country.

And finally, the biggest elephant in the room is the idea of what to do about our energy problems. You may ask why I mention this as an enormous problem–gas prices are relatively stable, and it is not supposed to be an especially cold winter. It is not a dynamic chapter in the long chronicle of our struggles with how to power our consumer driven society. Unfortunately, the rest of the world does not take our devil-may-care attitude towards energy. While Congress cannot even muster the political will to pass a token energy bill that would not do anything, other countries around the world are instituting renewable energy policies. These policies are especially popular in the rising economies in the east, including China and India, who have both taken more proactive attitudes towards renewable energy than we have.

But why is this important in a year when we have an economy in flames and two wars to fight? The answer is that the rest of the world is hedging their bets against the next great energy crisis while we sit and do nothing. The economy needs more stimulus–why not put it into green jobs? And please do not give me the argument about how it would put all the oil workers out of jobs–there is plenty of demand for fossil fuels to go around at the moment, a few green grants are not going to uproot the system. Furthermore, the creation of these new jobs will offset any possible losses. In the end, we gain new jobs, we gain stimulus and we gain a sense of moving forward in the world that America seems to have lost since the giddy computer revolution of the 1990s. Finally, we gain a little insurance for a rainy day (and by rainy day, I mean the time when Al Qaeda finally figures out how to actually blow up an oil tanker–they were able to detonate a dinghy against the hull of one a mere two months ago).

All of these issues are legitimately important issues in an election year. Yet we hear instead angry debate about a largely toothless health care plan that only begins to try to save the unbelievably convoluted government run health care system (which includes the soon to be insolvent institutions of Medicare and Medicaid). I want to hear something different, something proactive, a platform that does not play the blame game.

The Democrats may lose Congress but America is losing its edge in the world and tens of millions of her citizens are demoralized and dejected. We need something a little more positive if we are to truly be enthused. We need an answer to the real questions on America’s mind.