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I'm hearing a lot of talk about our Nation being at a crossroad, a common enough campaign rhetoric. But this time, perhaps it isn't just rhetoric at all. The decisions made by voters in this up-coming election may actually determine whether we survive as a Democracy, an independent Republic of the people, a Sovereignty in the world. Although, I do question that we were ever intended to be a Sovereignty in the first place.  In reality, we've been hovering at this modern day crossroad since the early Seventies. Yet, at no other time, I don't think, have we been so perilously close to the edge.

According to the political gurus, two major issues are vying for order of importance; National Security, which would include the war in Iraq, and the Economy. However, there are such a multitude of factors to consider in either of these priorities that a complex web forms over what is really basic simple knowledge to those of us who function within a somewhat balanced household budget. Don't bite off more than you can chew and don't spend or borrow more than you can earn and pay back. I could add, don’t put off ‘til tomorrow what should be done today. The survival of a Democracy and its people is really no different.

With that thought in mind, it is important to consider that the Economy, that intangible 'thing' that determines our daily lives, the costs we incur for basic shelter, food, clothing and healthcare, is not a separate thing, an issue onto itself at all. It is not just the price we pay for a gallon of gas at the pump. The Economy is the effect caused by all other issues including the war, foreign policy, federal regulations and global trade policies, and all domestic policies. It is also the result of our own collective attitudes, expectations, beliefs and demands and our own failures as the ruling force in a Democracy . . . we the people, we the watch dogs.

I've been amazed at the recent reaction to the price of oil. Suddenly, when faced with crisis, perhaps survival, the American people are now practicing conservation, gearing up for a change in certain lifestyles. I read where the last three months have shown a billion less barrels of consumption weekly and it continues to rise. Suddenly, everyone is aware that we've been without a workable National Energy Policy for the last thirty years even though we were warned back in the first energy crunch of the early Seventies, before the advent of the SUV craze. Why do we wait until the point of crisis before we even begin to address a problem? American ingenuity has always come through when pressed. Why do we always have to wait until we are pressed?

Our elected government officials, from our neighborhoods, counties, and states all the way to the top levels of Federal government in Washington have become a separate country within our country. We have dropped the ball in our watchdog duties. We have allowed, what was intended by the forefathers to be terms of service, to become career positions where re-election and job security becomes the driving force. It's what promotes the shallow rhetoric, the campaign lies, the promises that there's 'something in it for us' if we vote for them. It's what becomes the volumes of hidden compromises in the tons of legislation that ties up progress for months as it weaves its way through all the bureaucracy. It's what becomes the band-aids slapped on major wounds right around election time. It's pork for an influential few, a handout here and a handout there, often with great personal wealth going to the holders of these positions for the favors granted.  

What we have been trained to think of as a two-party political system is, in reality, two divisions, the Incumbent party and us, the people. Sadly, it's become almost an 'us against them' phenomena that has leaked into society itself. Those of us who stand to gain against those of us who have to pay the bills. Before any of the tremendous problems facing this nation can even hope to be solved, we will have to have total and complete Political Reform. We must have term limits, campaign finance reform, accountability, and, most importantly, new and enforceable voter requirements. Voting should not bejust a right, but an earned privilege. I'm almost radical enough to support a requirement that would give this privilege only to a tax paying or retired tax-paying citizen. Instead of a proof of address shown at the polls, possibly, a W-2 showing that one does pay taxes.  Millions of voters who determine policy stand only to receive from the government and don't pay in a dime. If you think about it, that's rather shocking.  

The following is a quote from the book "Class Warfare – Politicians Out of Control" by Richard C. Legge. Mr. Legge spent forty years as a management consultant analyzing tough problems and solutions at both the Corporate and Government levels. I found it a fascinating revelation. "The {American} public is immensely ignorant when it comes to politics. In a recent survey, about 70% could not name their two state Senators. Close to one-third are completely ignorant of relevant political information. They are wide open to the manipulation of public opinion by those who can spin information in a compelling way."  

How can this be true in an age of almost instant communication? I'd guess it's because we are lured into thinking that we are informed if we listen to a news broadcast each day. But, as I've already discussed in previous columns, television can actually increase ignorance by spinning and programming the hype that increases ratings. It takes the time we should be spending doing a little research on candidates' voting records and the validity of their claims. And most importantly, to be aware of the proposed direction for the country as a whole and not just a few, the cost and who pays and how is it going to be paid for. Nothing is free in the long run even if it appears that way in the beginning. Who stands to gain the most?

Yes, we Americans are at a crucial crossroad. One we've been inching toward for years through our shirking of duty. If ever you've taken the right to exercise a vote for granted, if ever you've voted only on the 'what's in it for me' premise, if ever you've voted for a candidate based only on one belief or passion without taking time to study the whole package, if ever you've thought your one vote didn't really make a difference, if ever you've just been apathetic to the entire process, or looked only to the short term effects of a policy,  the knowledge you gain in next five months may be your last chance to effect change and secure your future. If not, by the time the next opportunity rolls around, we quite possibly will have gone too far over the edge.

Susan Haley



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