Tackling the Tough Issues

After two weeks of hiking with my 21-year-old and plenty of time to be concerned about nothing more than falling off a mountain or whether my body would endure eight hours a day of pounding, I do find a clarity of perspective that I hope will make some sense to even my harshest critics on the other side of the aisle.

As Rove and Snow and many others leave the Bush ship and the presidential campaign moves to the forefront, the question is where we are going, not just with politics but with seemingly forgotten policy issues. 

I firmly believe, after much thought, that the real focus for Americans will be centered around three looming and critically important problems: retirement security, health security and the sorry state of our education system, which leads to growing economic inequality.

Starting with the latter, we are failing our children by being content to accept the fact that nearly one in three doesn’t graduate from high school, and that we cannot make four years of college attainable or affordable for more than 30 percent of Americans. This is a national disgrace, and devastating for our future in a global economy. It is also a serious blow to those on the lower end of the economic ladder, who are prevented from realizing their potential. We cannot succeed as a nation until we commit ourselves to radical change in education, far beyond No Child Left Behind. We need to set a national goal of doubling the number of college graduates in a generation. We need radical surgery on our teacher training, teacher pay, length and type of the school year, involvement of parents, and college prep courses. We can no longer limp along by eschewing national responsibility for solving this crisis.

Our healthcare system is a cancer growing on the body politic. It is an insane system that does not even work for over 44 million Americans. It leaves our children, our poor, our forgotten behind and is much too costly and inefficient for those fortunate enough to have insurance. In short, it is broken. Whether we determine that we can pull together a system of small-business health plans, more preventive coverage, and a streamlined national plan combining private and government coverage, we need to look at more than tinkering. The governors are in revolt on the cost and quality of Medicare coverage, the weight of Medicaid is growing exponentially, and our healthcare profession is not supported the way it should be — and Americans know it.

From Social Security to 401(k)s to corporate retirement plans ... Houston, we have a problem. Again, those at the lower end of the economic ladder, and even those in the middle, are at risk. We are actually now in a negative savings position — Americans’ debt for the first time exceeds their savings. We are a people who have become slaves to credit cards, with the average family owing nearly $10,000 in credit card debt. We need to reward savings, help make it easier to ensure that retirement savings are portable and revamp Social Security in the context of true retirement security.

These are three of the toughest problems facing us, and they hit Americans where they live. Regardless of political party, all the political candidates have a responsibility to tackle them and to put ideas on the table. After all, this is what we elect them to do.