I Got It Wrong

Declaration of IndependenceReading time – 2:39; Viewing time – 4:08  .  .  .

I’ve long lamented the lack of a clear vision for America from our leaders and our candidates. They promote various programs, laws and policies but never seem to connect them to a clear statement about the kind of country we want, effectively swatting at symptoms with a ready, fire, aim methodology, which has brought us to our current condition.

Then it came to me. It’s right there in the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident:

That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed;

And it’s in the Preamble to the Constitution:

We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity  .  .  .

It’s the whole thing. The Big Picture. The reason. The why. It isn’t a slick campaign bumper sticker slogan, like “Shining city on a hill” or “Morning in America,” so those passages from long ago take a bit more effort to remember and they aren’t neatly organized into a single, focus-grouped focal point, but instead have a number of points. Still, the intent is pretty clear. Our problem seems to lie in the wrong-headed efforts that do not lead to that intent.

For example, the Glass-Steagall Act was passed in 1933 as a barrier to bank failure in order to prevent another Great Depression. One of its provisions prohibited any combination of business practices from among three financial functions that included commercial banking (home mortgages, savings accounts, etc.), speculative investment banking and the insurance business. That worked pretty well until 1999 when the Newt Gingrich Congress sent a bill to President Bill Clinton that repealed Glass-Steagall and he signed it into law. That led to things like collateralized debt obligations, derivatives and a number of other financial products that pretty much nobody understood, not even the smart guys. It was Las Vegas style gambling with your money but without your consent and you never even held the dice. The result was the 2008-2009 economic meltdown that nearly crippled the entire world economy. The removal of the Glass-Steagall restrictions did, indeed promote the general welfare, but only for already rich people. It didn’t promote the general welfare of the country or of most of its people. It was classic congressional action that was absent of focus on the vision.

Another example is our election system that puts candidates on their knees begging for campaign contributions from, say, the NRA. That does a great job of promoting the general welfare of the gun industry, but it most assuredly doesn’t insure domestic tranquility.

Billions of dollars of subsidies go to the fossil fuel industries each year and that is great for the welfare of those companies. But the subsidized use of their products is starting to cause the streets of Miami Beach to flood. It’s causing severe storms in some areas of the world and drought in others and is slowly but at an increasing pace choking the planet. Without question that is an assault on our unalienable right to life, yet we continue the subsidies and fail to promote an all-hands-on-deck sustainable energy strategy that would support our citizens’ right to life.

So, I got it wrong. There most surely is a vision. We just have a remarkable facility for losing focus on it.


Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

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3 Responses to I Got It Wrong
  1. dominickpalella Reply

    When I first read this statement, I initially agreed with it: “Another example is our election system that puts candidates on their knees begging for campaign contributions from, say, the NRA.”

    On second thought, this is an example of a common misdirected perception that most people would agree with. However, it deflects responsibility away from the individuals within the “election system”. The “election system” is nothing but a description of a concept. The people who run the election system have names and titles that identify them. They are responsible for how it works.

    Again, I point out that no politician is forced to solicit or take money from special interests, but do this voluntarily, in a system they have created for themselves.

    Therefore, there is no “election system”, but a group of individuals defining what it is supposed to do. When you have two private political parties in control of the “election system”, have they not colluded to agree and support the way they run it? In effect, the members of legislators and any executive can immediately call a halt for all of them to stop taking money from corporate interests, or people who don’t even live in their voting districts. There is absolutely no need to repeal or enact any new laws to address the moral character of our politicians.

    The next time you hear words that describe anything but the people who run our government, become more aware of the meaning behind them. “Billions of dollars of subsidies go to the fossil fuel industries each year and that is great for the welfare of those companies.” is another example. We may accept it as true, but it does not reveal the underlying meaning of who is responsible for this arrangement between our politicians and their special interests benefactors. Who exactly is giving this money to this industry? Is it Congress, or can you name the individuals within the Congress responsible for this waste and abuse of their power?


  2. John Calia Reply

    It’s quite easy to buy into the narrative that the repeal of Glass-Steagall was a contributing cause to the financial crisis. However, the conclusions drawn by Pres. Obama’s Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (which studied the causes of the crisis for 18 month before publishing their report) present a more complex conclusion. The changes in financial markets, the rise of non-bank financial institutions, new regulations (such as Reg Q) and increased leverage by financial institutions were among the greater causes.

    It’s noteworthy that the signature institutional failures of the crisis — Bear, Stearns; Lehman Bros. and AIG — were not commercial banks and therefore would never have been subject to Glass-Steagall.

    I recently read that the majority of both Democrats and Republicans favor reimposing Glass-Steagall. Like most facile solutions, such an action would likely cause chaos in the financial markets and would not “solve” the perceived problem. It is more likely that Dodd-Frank (aka the Too Big to Fail Preservation Act) will cause the next crisis as it has resulted in a greater concentration of banking assets in the largest institutions, driving many community banks out of business in the process.

    I am greatly concerned that what passes for journalism today would create this destructive narrative by their gross negligence. It falls to thought leaders like you, Jack, to dig deeper and present a more intelligent case to your readers.

  3. Jim Altschuler Reply

    Thank you for sharing my exact thoughts from last week. In conversations with friends and acquaintances we, collectively, kept coming back to the will of the people — We, the people … — being ignored in favor of the very people you mentioned as well as others. Aiding the few at the expense of the majority of the populace is, as you said, wrong-headed thinking. And it has to stop. Our efforts, those of the government AND the people, have to be in the direction of the best interests of ALL of the people.