The spirit of public service is found in doing more for others than you do for yourself. Yet today, we find that politicians are more concerned about re-election, party coherence or celebrity than they are with doing the right thing.
Our nation is faced with complex challenges like no other time in history. If there were ever a time to challenge the status quo and to heed President Kennedy's call to "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country," this is that time.
Aside from a lack of faith in a government made up of ideologically driven politicians or millionaires, there is perhaps no more pressing issue today than that of unemployment and jobs. Today, unemployment is more important than the debt, more talked about than health care and more concerning than terrorism.
There is an inverse relationship between unemployment and the debt during times of economic difficulty; this is a fact of macroeconomics. For example, in Europe, when leaders became more concerned about debt than jobs, unemployment skyrocketed. We have seen this here at home too. In the short run, President Obama was right to pass a stimulus to stop the bleeding of jobs, but stimulus is not sustainable in the long run. Meanwhile, the private sector is sitting on over $2 trillion in cash reserves. This is money that if invested could be used to get us back on the road to economic prosperity.
No one likes debt, but sometimes debt is necessary if someone wants to buy a house or pay for an education, i.e., long-term investments. Debt can be acceptable if generations benefit from it; generations benefit from it, generations pay for it. But this is not what we are seeing today. The Bush tax cuts are by some estimates the single largest contributor to the deficit and therefore the debt, but they do not benefit future generations.
Sure we can cut spending at the federal level but those cuts are going to fall on state and local governments. I don't have a problem with cutting taxes for the wealthy but I do have a problem when it becomes a question of deciding whether a child with special needs gets an individualized education plan or police officers are not being hired to replace retiring officers. This is not sustainable and not in our long term security.
Terrorists are not our only threat, and neither are hostile nations such as North Korea or Iran, or competitor nations such as China or Russia. At no point in our history have our freedoms ever been under assault as they are today. Many politicians have claimed that terrorists will take away our freedom. I disagree. No one can take away our freedom except us. We are a righteous nation because of our values. But how committed to our values are we if we put those values aside because they are inconvenient? We cannot have fair-weather values.
Remember that Ben Franklin said "those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither." Nothing could be truer today.
This does not apply just to international security. We can see this theme in domestic law as well. Fear is a powerful motivator. Many of our laws are based on fear and not what evidence shows will work to reduce crime. But if we set policy in response to the worst case imaginable, we are going to always overreact. Being level headed and moderate in the face of fear is all too often missing in leadership.
If we look at the percentage of people who are reincarcerated we find that the prevalence of mental illness concurrently increases as the number of incarcerations increases. Mental health in crime is an area far too often ignored. This is wrong. Virtually everyone knows someone who has been afflicted by mental illness. and this is going to become much worse when we find that there is an increased risk for PTSD and other complications with returning veterans. If we put aside stigma and stereotypes, our community can be a national model for compassion and support for people afflicted with mental illness, or any illness for that matter.
Being active in important public issues is necessary for good citizenship and I believe that being publicly involved in these many public policy issues is important. For the past 18 months, The Sun Chronicle has been generous enough to print my many opinion columns on various public policy issues.
But now it is time that I sign off. I have decided to run for elected office to continue to do my share to solve problems that were left to us not of our doing. This is my last column. It has been fun.
PAUL HEROUX of Attleboro is a contributing columnist. He can be reached at PaulHeroux.MPA@gmail.com.