At Your Service: August 27, 2008

In these weeks that are ending and just before us, we are being treated to a great deal of spectacle. The Olympics in Beijing included the most elaborate opening and closing ceremonies ever conceived, sandwiching incredible accomplishments by athletes from many nations. Ahead are the Democratic and Republican conventions where dynamic speeches and rhetoric will be enhanced by wide screen presentations and other tech-based fanfare.
At the Olympics, world records fell like dominoes as one athlete after another achieved a new level of excellence. China, the host nation, spent billions of dollars to present itself as a power to be reckoned with; and they may have exceeded their goal. It boasts the fastest growing and strongest economy on the planet. Behind the display, China remains a nation that is challenged by some significant issues, including questions of personal and societal freedoms.
In this historic election year, the parties for the parties will be exciting. We are likely to see the presentation of different perspectives on our past and our future. They are each putting forth candidates who have very different world views. Our democratic process will determine the winner through its inherent majority rule.
The outcome hinges on the voting by we the people. Polls tell us that Americans are calling for significant changes in both the way we do things and in defining our role in a changing world. There is a great deal at stake. We are in the process of determining who will lead the charge for change over the next four, and possibly eight, years.
The real work of the conventions is to establish a platform. The platform is the substance of the election campaign, the foundation on which the next administration will build its agenda. While it is driven by the promises of the presidential candidates, it is created through a process of negotiation and compromise that yields a plan for action the majority of delegates can stand behind.
We would do well to look beyond the rhetoric to assess what those running for office plan to do to meet the serious economic and political challenges that face our nation. The easiest way to make this determination is to read the platforms. Both parties will create brochures, commercials and other materials that summarize their agenda. Only the platform contains the full measure of their plan.
The platforms will provide insights into not only which issues the parties consider important enough to be addressed, but what priority they will be given by the next administration. The economy, which translates to what we have in our pockets to live on, is at the top of everyone’s list. There are a multitude of things that could be done to stimulate the economy, but which actions are the candidates and their respective parties anticipating as a remedy?
Beyond the immediate economy, the future waits. In the next few decades, as technology continues to expand the possibilities for all people, our success is wholly dependent upon the ability of our children to compete. The American educational systems are producing results woefully behind those of competing nations. We have the highest illiteracy rate (21 percent, according to the United Nations) of any developed nation. In China, it is mandatory for every student to take biology, chemistry and higher mathematics in middle school. A majority of American students take little or no science and math beyond the basics. An undereducated populace doesn’t stand a chance of competing in the future.
China’s vibrant economy has burgeoned over the last decade as more and more corporations have turned to them to produce products with a cheap labor force. This shift of resources has enabled that nation to move from having over 20 percent of its population living in poverty 10 years ago to today’s two percent level. The current poverty level in our country ranges between 16 and 19 percent and is rising; it is currently around 25 percent for those under the age of 18 in our area. What is the plan to move these numbers in the other direction? How will new American jobs be created?
The security of the nation and its borders present another set of issues. While Iraq, Afghanistan and “The War on Terror” are on everyone’s tongue, conflicts in Georgia, Darfur, Chad, Myanmar, Argentina, the two Korean states and elsewhere threaten the world’s stability. Our relationships with our European and neighboring allies also need attention and cannot simply be taken for granted. What are the intentions regarding our world position?
Ultimately, not one of these issues will be resolved by a platform. But the platform of each party gives us an indication of which direction the next president intends to lead. Tax incentives and other governmental initiatives will direct the actions of the individuals and organizations that will make the real changes happen. In order to understand what future we are voting for, we need to see the platform beyond the spectacle.