What’s At Stake?
IU voices weigh in on the critical questions of Election 2012
Over the coming months, you and other voters across the United States will choose our next president and Congress. This electoral process is a cornerstone of our democracy, and the national election on Nov. 6 gives us all a voice in the debate about the most significant issues facing our nation and world.
We asked several prominent people with IU ties to comment on some of the issues of the campaign. Some participated by phone; others, via email. Some commented on multiple topics; others focused on one. All were compelling with their contributions.
ENERGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Professor A. James Barnes
Can we re-establish a responsible and responsive public policymaking process to deal with important current and emerging public health and environmental problems in our country?
The late 1960s and early 1970s saw a great outpouring of public concern about environmental conditions in the United States. Our rivers and lakes were badly polluted; our national bird, the bald eagle, was threatened with extinction, its egg shells thinned by ingestion of DDT; and air pollution in many cities was pervasive and a threat to public health.
The response of our public officials was swift and direct. In 1970, President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency, and between 1970 and 1990, Congress, by overwhelming bi-partisan majorities, passed and subsequently refined comprehensive statutes to deal with air and water pollution, management of hazardous waste, regulation of pesticides, safe drinking water, and the cleanup of previous waste disposal that presented a human and environmental threat.
By the end of the millennium, we had achieved considerable success in addressing these environmental concerns, with our air safer to breathe and our waters much cleaner.
But by the mid-1990s and continuing today, we have a confluence of factors that are impeding rational action and progress toward dealing with environmental concerns, some of them newly emerging. The environment has become a partisan political football. The public discourse on environmental issues is increasingly less intellectually honest, with labels like “job killer” becoming facile substitutes for thoughtful analysis. Science has become more — and in some cases dangerously — politicized. Legislatures pass resolutions denying climate change and requiring the teaching of religious-based or non-science-based theories. EPA policies swing wildly between administrations. And the consequence of EPA bashing is that the public has no credible source to help it sort out conflicting and competing claims about environmental and health risks, and no confidence that they are being rationally addressed.
We need to address our environmental problems using sound science, solid analysis, fair consideration of competing concerns, and a process that inspires public confidence while protecting its vital interests.
Sen. Richard Lugar
Today, American troops continue to be in harm’s way in volatile oil-rich lands. Our national security personnel continue efforts to combat terrorism, prevent nuclear proliferation in Iran, and protect U.S. interests in many other ways. Yet, too often oil gets in the way of our security. This is especially concerning when you consider that some of the hundreds of billions of dollars we spend on oil each year are diverted to governments and groups that do not share our interests.
We know there is no single solution. That is why in the current 112th Congress, I introduced a Practical Energy Plan which takes a holistic approach to our energy needs (lugar.senate.gov/energy/plan/index.cfm). The plan would reduce foreign oil needs by 50 percent. It would save people money by incentivizing conservation. It would cut energy usage by the federal government. All told, it would save Americans $33 billion a year.
As with so many of our most complex problems, there are an abundance of feasible solutions to our energy challenges. We are best served by not waiting for a deeper crisis. We should begin now to plan and develop a new generation of energy businesses and opportunities.
Sen. Evan Bayh
The biggest challenge for America is how to compete economically in a more global world economy. How can we create good jobs for Americans when competing with other countries whose people are willing to work for a lot less? A healthy economy drives everything else. It’s a challenging period, not only because of the recession, but also because of the long-term trend toward increasing competition from abroad.
If we don’t get the economy right, other issues won’t be solved. If you look at public opinion polls, for the first time in our country, a majority of the population doesn’t think our future will be as good as our past. It doesn’t have to be that way. We can shape our own destiny. If we make moderate sacrifices and invest in quality education, research, and development to create innovative jobs, America will be just fine. But if we choose to take the path of least resistance and continue to engage in political bickering, then perhaps the pessimistic poll numbers are a harbinger of the future.
Vote for candidates who offer realistic solutions, not those who pander to their own self-interests. We have too many people thinking like Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, rather than thinking like Americans.
So, we have to be willing to do what every generation has done up to now — make necessary hard decisions and sacrifices.
Vice President Dan Quayle
It’s job creation. I heard a statistic today that people in their prime earning years have the highest unemployment rate in a long time. People in their 40s are out of work. That’s a very important statistic. That’s a very large segment of Americans having a lot of stress these days.
You have to have a growth agenda that’s creating opportunities. You don’t do that by a radical increase in the size of the government. That’s not the way to go. I think there are a lot of good things in the Simpson-Bowles plan. That can be a starting point. But you have to have leadership, and we don’t have that today.
Job prospects. I have a three-year bye while I’m enrolled in law school. But for many of my peers, prospective jobs are being taken by people who have been laid off. Most employers ask for experience. Recent college graduates don’t have that. We can’t get hired into the high-quality jobs we used to find pretty easily. Of course, we are getting jobs, but not the caliber of those we hear our older brothers and sisters talk about. People I hang around are good people, not just average grads. We can’t find the jobs promised by a higher education diploma. It’s not IU’s fault; it’s the economy’s fault.
And it’s not government’s responsibility to create jobs. So, I’m hoping government and politicians get out of the way and let the people who create jobs do that.
Sen. Evan Bayh
We have to restore fiscal sanity to the federal government. In the short run, we can do some things that won’t cause the economy to slump again. In the long term, health care costs are exploding. As the baby-boom generation ages, the cost of Medicare and Medicaid as well as Social Security will grow rapidly. We have to address this to make sure all Americans have access to quality health care and to keep from bankrupting the country.
I don’t want to sound partisan, but President Obama’s views are pretty well known. He wanted to provide coverage, eliminate some insurance practices Americans did not like — denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, for example. He did it through a mechanism that’s been unpopular — you have to buy insurance. But we don’t like to be told what to do.
Mr. Romney, when governor of Massachusetts, signed into law a bill very similar to the one the president got passed. Since then, he’s changed his mind, saying that approach is OK for a state, but not the federal government. Americans will have to sort all of that out.
Vice President Dan Quayle
Health care takes 17 to 18 percent of the economy. That is very significant. What you want is access, quality, and affordability. These are three laudable goals that sometimes clash with each other. You want coverage on catastrophic health care. Sometimes people who are young and/or healthy take insurance less seriously. It will be interesting to see what the court does on the mandate to buy insurance. Once the court acts, in either direction, this whole reform question will be back on the agenda. [On June 28, in a landmark decision, the Supreme Court upheld the health-care reform law.] Gov. Romney’s approach is a lot different from President Obama’s. The governor’s is through competition, getting companies involved and services delivered, getting more information to the consumer. The consumer has to be more involved in these decisions.
Regulating health care would create jobs, cut spending, and improve the overall quality of care. Patients in states that spend the most on health care receive the worst care. There is a huge amount of fraud and waste.
Having national health care does not mean that the government is telling you what doctor to go to or what procedures to have. It means that everyone has access to care. Health care is not a privilege. People who already receive national health care are federal workers, military personnel, and senators and representatives.
Mandating all Americans to have health insurance is a smart idea. It lowers overall cost. If every citizen has health insurance, hospitals will not have to write off bad debt because a patient could not afford to pay his or her bill. It lowers insurance premiums because more people are buying it. I find it interesting that we are mandated by law to buy auto insurance, but not insurance to help us stay well and help the nation’s economy stay solvent.
Professor Sheila Kennedy
I’m tired of hearing that the Affordable Care Act is a “big government” assault on capitalism. That accusation rests on a fundamental misapprehension: that anything done by the private sector is by definition “capitalism.” Before the ACA, government was already paying more than 60 percent of American health-care costs, and doing so in the most inefficient way possible. I am a pro-market capitalist. In areas where markets work, I believe we should let them.
But there are areas where markets don’t work, or work only with substantial assistance. Think public safety, national defense, infrastructure. Health care is an area where markets demonstrably do not work, for many reasons. Every other western industrialized nation has come to that conclusion.
Lack of universal health care is both a huge drag on the U.S. economy, and a breach of our duty to our fellow citizens. Recognition of that reality is sanity, not an assault on capitalism.
Poverty is the fundamental moral and spiritual issue of our time.
Since the ugly assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. 44 years ago, poverty has been rendered invisible. The plight of precious poor people has been reduced to a political afterthought or philanthropic gesture. Our worship at the altar of free markets and our obsession with the glitz and gluttony of celebrity culture has yielded a cold and chronic indifference to the suffering of our weak and vulnerable citizens, especially our precious children. The figures are staggering. Nearly half of all Americans live in persistent poverty, new poverty, or near poverty. Almost one out of four children is poor. The younger you are in America, the more likely you are to be poor.
Have we as a nation simply come to the end of our democratic vision and practice and thereby given in to the dominant forces of greed and unfairness? One sure sign we have not succumbed to this American nightmare would be to fight for the eradication of poverty. This fight would reinvigorate American democracy and renew a sense of justice in our midst.
Our troubled society is polarized by a racial divide, class struggle, and gender strife. Still, we yearn for a moral and spiritual movement that embraces and empowers the forgotten, abandoned, and neglected.
Is not loving poor people a sure sign of our rejection of indifference, greed, and unfairness? If so, then let there be a full-fledged explosion of this love, courage, and hope in a poverty abolitionist movement.
The truth about poverty must be affirmed. Like a man with a knife in his back staggering along a crowded street without aid, the poor, especially women and children, have been stabbed with the blade of indifference. We must acknowledge the pain and stop the bleeding. Affirmation leads to validation, which compels us to action.
State marriage discrimination lawsuits are popping up throughout the United States. It’s a key issue facing the nation, and it’s an issue potentially heading to the Supreme Court. Already, four federal courts have delved into the debate, declaring the Defense of Marriage Act constitutionally unsound. President Obama’s support of gay marriage was only a symbolic gesture, because as it stands, it’s not a federal issue until it gets to the High Court.
It’s unclear when the issue will make its way to the Court, but it’s a sure bet that if it gets there, it will be a major chapter in the nation’s history book. And if the Court gets it wrong (or confused — remember Roe v. Wade?), we’re going to be in for a long, hard ride — one that will almost certainly involve bitter disagreements and callous debates.
I could say that I think gay marriage is a civil rights issue and a human rights issue. I could say that some might think that I, as a journalist, need to remain neutral. I could say that I hope the Court finds instructive precedent from the famous interracial marriage case Loving v. Virginia. But what I can’t say is that it won’t be a big deal. Who is sitting on the Court will matter more than who is sitting in the White House. And what will matter most will be how Americans treat each other after the fact.
Professor Sheila Kennedy
Just as the election of a black president horrified the throwbacks still clinging to white privilege, women’s steady progress has infuriated the throwbacks clinging to male privilege. (Not that the two categories are mutually exclusive.) There is no other explanation for the eruption of legislation attacking women’s rights on multiple fronts — including, unbelievably, equal pay laws.
The most ferocious assault, as usual, has been aimed squarely at a woman’s right to control her own reproduction. That ability is the foundation of our equality, and the old men who resent that equality know it.
Jefferson was right: Liberty requires eternal vigilance. Those of us who thought the fight for women’s rights had been won had better go dig out our battle gear.
Having attended the International Space Camp as part of the Teacher of the Year program, I remain fascinated by space exploration. Watching simulations that tax the imagination and hearing astronauts’ stories, I learned how our nation’s space program began with a presidential challenge. Innovation ensued, and we soared to the moon. If, however, innovation had not been followed by careful, reflective implementation, our mission to travel into space would have failed.
In much the same way, our educational system has endured a period of challenges followed by unprecedented innovation. Technological initiatives, teacher-accountability systems, Common Core, Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, and Balanced Assessment have brought about transformative changes. Now it is time for government leaders to patiently help implement our shared mission. To improve the quality of education, teachers need the time and resources to carry out these innovative plans. As we progress through each phase of implementation, government leaders must also be willing to listen, reflect, and adjust the plans. Educators, policy makers, and community members must work together, agree to disagree at times, and compromise when necessary if we are to realize our shared goals for K-12 education.
Sen. Evan Bayh
It gets back to the economy again. The gap between haves and have-nots has a lot to do with education. People who get a fine education, like that at IU, and particularly advanced degrees, have done quite well. Wages and the standard of living have gone up for them. People who have not gotten a college degree, or who haven’t earned a high school diploma, have seen their standard of wages drop precipitously. We are in competition with people in foreign countries willing to work for cheaper wages. We need to make sure that every American has access to a quality education. The whole question of education is bound up with what is healthy for the economy. If we are going to keep the social fabric healthy, we need to make sure quality education is accessible for everyone.
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