On this, the day before the most important election in the history of the world, the election that will change the course of history forever*, it’s time again for something positive. I will list the qualities, positions, and policies I would like to see in someone who is running for office.
First, every politician ought to be prepared that his day job is a part-time gig.
“Part-time?” comes the inevitable protest. “How can I run the country on a part-time basis?”
Well, sir, madam, you should not be running the country at all. The country is capable of steaming along quite well all on its own. What you should be doing is protecting its citizens from dangers outside our borders. That’s it. Almost. There are a few other items that need to be taken care of, but let’s get over the idea that we need someone to run our lives.
The U.S. is not, as President Obama is so happy to remind us, a business. The 320 million people who make up this country do not need a manager to set policy, determine what products we will make, or legislate how we will run our private lives. Our public lives, though, involves another dynamic.
The United States used to be known as the great melting pot. All kinds of immigrants, from all sorts of countries, came to the land of opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their families. They brought their own customs, languages, and religions. If they so desired, they established enclaves of like-minded people, and spent their nights and weekends, and whenever else they weren’t working, celebrating their roots.
But these immigrants had one thing in common. They knew that to succeed, they must learn the common language, English, familiarize themselves with the local customs, and abide by the local rules. Diversity in the common arena was not tolerated. A splash of color here or there, an exotic food brought in for lunch, a smattering of a homeland curse or blessing, distinguished one person from the crowd, but too much difference was frowned upon.
“If you don’t like it here, why don’t you go back to where you belong?”
“I came here to make a better life for my family. There was no opportunity at home.”
What never seems to be brought out is the next logical line in that conversation:
“There’s a reason that there was no opportunity where you came from. Part of the reason that America is a land of opportunity is that here, we all support the same customs and mores and language. Dress and behave and worship however you want to at home, but we all work together because we all operate under the same code.”
Those who want to celebrate their differences at work, without having to accept any consequences for their actions, are ignoring the fact that a great many ills in the world come about as a result of people’s intolerance of others’ religion, dress, race, or language. America works when we ignore all of those differences at the workplace, while allowing them at home. Our leaders have a duty to inspire people to adopt the overarching mores and culture of the successful in our country: work hard, respect others, help out when you can, and speak the common tongue.
Here, where you work, it doesn’t matter whether you are Protestant or Catholic, Sunni or Shia, Buddhist or Coptic. Unlike in other countries where announcing your religion in the streets could get you killed, we tend to tolerate a lot more diversity because we all adopt the same culture—a light dusting of civilization, instead of a heavy dose of a particular way of life.
I understand that many people have religious beliefs that conflict with the currently accepted practices, but before anyone decides to pressure the government to fall more in line with a particular belief system, remember that what may sway members of the government one way at one point in time, may also sway other members of government another way another time. Prohibiting abortion may fly now, but later prohibiting Christianity may be the battle cry.
The government works best that treads lightest. It is true that, if people are not forced to do the right thing, however that is defined, there may be many, many problems that still exist. Not all poverty will be wiped out. Not everyone will receive the best education. Some people will become drug addicts. Of course, those things all happen now, and the government has been intruding itself into all of those arenas for some time now.
If someone wants to go all crusader to fix all of the ills of this world, that’s fine. But don’t run for office. Start a sect, fire up a non-profit, begin a new religion. Gather as many followers to your cause as you can, and work to fashion the world in your new image—privately.
No country, especially one as large and heterogeneous as this one, needs a zealot in office, with the power to back up his otherworldly vision with guns. And what we certainly don’t need is one zealot after another, teetering the country first one way then another.
All we really need from our politicians is maintenance of a civil society, with the barest touch of guidance now and then. Certainly we have the skills and the knowhow to convince people to act courteously toward one another, instead of having to force them all to behave through threat of punishment.
So, once you’re elected, go to Washington, check on how things are doing there, then return home to your dry goods business. The rest of us will manage to steam along somehow, even if you are not there to prod us all along on the path of righteousness.
*This is a pet peeve of mine. Everything changes everything forever. Nothing stays the same. “You don’t step into the same river twice,” as Heraclitus said. What people mean when they say something is changed forever is that it is changed profoundly. So say what you mean.
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