Five years ago this month my first column was published in the Savannah Morning News. Subsequently The Augusta Chronicle and the Athens Banner-Herald starting publishing it. All three newspapers have been supportive of my efforts, and it has been a valuable experience.
After my wife and I retired and moved to Savannah, I became more and more concerned about national politics. As a fiscal conservative, I was infuriated that America’s political leaders from both parties failed to lead in attacking our federal debt. So I started sending letters to the editor of the Morning News presenting commonsense solutions to the mushrooming debt and the projected Social Security shortfall, and articulating why military budgets should not be cut.
After several years of letters being published in the Morning News, The Wall Street Journal and national military magazines, I asked the editorial page editor of the Morning News, Tom Barton, if he would publish an op-ed column from me.
Tom responded that he has writers from the political right and left, but not from the middle. With this approval, my first column was titled “Our politicians have failed us” about our mushrooming federal debt. My assumption was I was “one and done” as a columnist, but Tom said to keep writing. Five years later, this is my 59th column.
FOR RESEARCH I read and watch political news, and receive ample reader feedback on my columns. Following are some of the takeaways from this experience.
My most well-received columns were about military service. One was about my Naval Academy classmates 50 years after graduation, and another about my father and his five brothers’ service and sacrifice in World War II. A third recounted the military service and sacrifice of the members of the Continental Congress during the Revolutionary War. The popularity of those columns is not a surprise; Gallup polls consistently rate the military as the most respected institution in America. Congress is routinely rated the least.
It is Congress’ own fault. As a group, members are self-serving and cowardly. Their actions and votes are based on their re-election, not on doing what is right. It always amazes me that we as citizens expect our military to risk their lives for us, but our expectations for politicians are so low we do not even expect them to risk their own re-election.
The prime example of political cowardice concerns the most predictable train wreck in American history, our unsustainable federal debt. How do we get it under control? Just like a failing business, we must increase revenue and/or cut expenses. But Republicans don’t want to increase revenue, and Democrats don’t want to cut expenses. So instead of compromising, they propose unachievable solutions, passing the crushing debt burden on to future generations.
FAILURE TO compromise is the cause for today’s political dysfunction. Instead of courageously explaining to voters that compromise is required, politicians rail against the opposition’s position. They harden their followers’ mistaken view that the debt can be fixed by adopting mathematically insufficient and politically unachievable positions. Because of gerrymandering, about 90 percent of House seats are either safely Republican or Democrat. This allows members of Congress to proclaim the correctness of their unrealistic views within their own congressional district’s partisan echo chamber.
As an independent, I am part of the largest political group in the country. Gallup polling in 2015 showed 42 percent of the country are independents, 29 percent Democrats and 26 percent Republicans. The percentage of independents is increasing at the expense of the two major parties, and that is logical given their lack of achievement. Democrats and Republicans find it easier to fight than fix.
Hyperpartisans often believe that someone who disagrees with them must belong to the opposite party. They don’t acknowledge there is a middle ground, where citizens can support the most reasonable candidates and policies from either party. At a recent social event one person introduced me as a Democrat, and later another said I was a Republican. Their differences of opinion was a personal compliment.
DESPITE THESE observations, I am an optimist about America’s future. In today’s world of uncertain economic conditions and ISIS violence, what nation is better? But we do need our politicians to adopt the ethos of the military, and put their country above themselves. America needs leaders willing to show us some tough love; to be brave enough to risk their own re-election; to reach political compromise; and to tell the truth about America’s challenges.
(The writer is a retired U.S. Navy officer. He lives and writes in Savannah.)