Independence Day is a time to celebrate independent thinking. As we listen to election candidates and politicians try to tell us all the answers, we should remind ourselves this July 4th that we as citizens can identify solutions to America’s biggest problems with our own independent judgment and common sense.
Here are my five recommendations for thinking independently this Independence Day, so we can serve our country and take pride in our roles as U.S. citizens.
1. Look beyond sound bites this election season:
Key issues are too seldom part of what passes for political debate these days. Politicians in both parties steer away from exactly the subjects they ought to be addressing in favor of sound bites and quick fixes. I would urge voters to look beyond the sound bites to which candidates are most likely to move us — or, better yet, lead us — in a constructive direction once elected.
2. Serve our country and those in need:
During my high school days, John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech called out to all of us: “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” And, in that spirit, I would now urge a universal national service program for high school graduates that would call for every young person to perform at least one year of service in an approved field, in one of three areas: military, public works and infrastructure or social services. Not only is it a sound answer to the issues American higher education is up against, it is likely to be the only feasible answer. And as for the psyche of our society, I can’t imagine that the mixing of many diverse backgrounds, working together for a common purpose, would be other than felicitous.
3. Tackle income inequality more dramatically:
In order to restore the economic strength of the middle class while maintaining a safety net for those in need, we must take some steps that will sound as radical as the income tax sounded a hundred years ago, but are just as necessary. If there’s just one statistic to highlight this, it’s that median income in the U.S. has barely moved up since the 1970’s. All of the gains since then — and they have been enormous — have gone to the top.
4. Let’s be George Washington’s “drops in the ocean”:
Washington admonished the Continental Congress on behalf of his underpaid troops that the number of people who “act upon the principles of disinterestedness are, comparatively speaking, no more than a drop in the ocean.” The time has come to finally change that. At a minimum, we should support only those rare exceptions Washington talked about — caring and long-sighted thinkers who will dare to change policy for the enhancement of the general good. And, better yet, we can all try to be those exceptions.
5. Be patient about results, but NOT about jumping in to get things started.
The public sometime has to push the leaders to be brave on the big issues. Don’t be discouraged that you have only one vote or that change in a democracy takes time. Get in there and work, shout, write and campaign — or you’ll forfeit our government to whoever has the most money. The public can win any battle in a democracy if it works hard enough at change.