Monday, October 13, 2008

My Soapbox

So, it's almost the time of year to start my unit on government with my 8th graders. This always poses a challenge for me because I used to teach 12th grade government- an entire semester's worth of material- and now have to cram it into about 6 weeks. Give 14-year-olds a reasonable understanding of our government's structure and foibles in only 6 weeks? Yeah, not the easiest task on the planet.

But each year, as I ponder the United States government, its original intentions, and the behemoth it has become today, I come back to the realization that the Founding Fathers did do a pretty great job of creating a (fairly) stable system. For all its drawbacks, it still does a better job than almost any other system of keeping power in check, spreading benefits to many varied interest groups, and protecting system-sustaining rights such as free speech.

Except for its fatal flaw....

Which, I've decided, is its emphasis on the short term. Our politicians and leaders in official positions, with the exception of judges, hold short terms of office. 2 years, 4 years, 6 years... those limits were designed to keep officials accountable to their constituents and avoid entrenched career-makers. However, this is just what's led us into the current problems that our country is facing- politicians, to keep their jobs, must focus on the short term. But many of the pressing issues today- the solvency of Social Security, the national debt, health care- call for long-term solutions that require some sacrifices both now and in future years. No politician is willing to stand up and give hard truths to the American people- we must raise taxes, cut government programs, pay back the debt, plan on higher prices for health care, etc. And it's not necessarily because politicians are deliberately trying to deceive (although some are), but that the voters of the United States will fire them for speaking such truths!

This is not the fault of the founders at the Constitutional Convention- their fear of an aristocratic, dictatorial government was (reasonably) greater than a concern for long-term thinking. They did, however, put great faith in the American people to have some sense of their own, which I fear is the main ingredient lacking these days. It's the citizens of the country that ultimately will have to admit that things can't continually be getting better and better, and that some sacrifices have to be made. If not, our politicians will continue to be paralyzed by the stricture of short-term elections and our country will keep pushing these problems into the future until they cause even greater havoc than we're seeing now. Please, America, be willing to listen to someone who will have the courage to say, "Here are the sacrifices we need to make..."!

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