Election 2008: Could this be our last chance to save America?

Hitler spoke of a "thousand-year Reich." Chances are good that exhausted American voters, entering the third year of presidential electioneering, are feeling there is a thousand-year campaign here: appearance after appearance, debate after debate, press release after media statement, an endless parade of faces we can barely identify with names.

All of this is more than fatuous. It is dangerous.

Because all of this show in the media hall of mirrors leads voters to believe they are invited into a department store of policies. They include three or four choices of health insurance schemes here, a half-dozen plans to reduce oil reliance - and so reduce global warming - over there.

There are any number of ideas for adjusting the burden (or blessing) of free trade and so many proposals to make the country safer from terror or from illegal aliens, while cutting federal spending, federal taxes, federal interference with our lives.

All these make our national choice of leaders little more than an auction.

We are, no matter for whom we vote, not going to get any of these. You can load up a scapegoat GOP with all our failures in these areas to date and drive it into the desert, and you will end up with little but more failures after them.

Because we can't AFFORD to talk policies anymore. None are any more achievable than George Bush's.

What America must want now, must demand in 2008, is a return to a sane polity, a way to make our Constitution itself work.

Policy is to our Constitution what blueprints are to architecture. It is what we tell our government we want it to do to carry out its responsibilities, and keep it doing that. This is much, much harder than choosing a candidate who promises to give us the things we want.

What we need more now is a government that will commit to obedience, to answerability. A government that will, simply, obey the law - not bend it, go around it, or change it in the dark of night.

We need a government that will pledge its sacred honor to be accountable to American citizens as they have instructed it through the laws.

The steady weakening of this polity over the last three generations has taken from us our original strengths of national character - to work together through this crisis (the Depression)and this mortal threat (the Great War), to a steady degeneration from "I've got mine, buddy, good luck to you," on to "I'm afraid of losing mine, buddy, and the person to blame is you."

The loss of our government's willingness to be governed by us has meant that the promise of the Constitution, opportunity for everyone, is being run further and further off the track, towards opportunity for the close.

This election could be our last civic chance to put it back on track by thinking of what the public's rights are, and what the government's responsibility is to secure them:

• better and safer highways and skyways, roads and bridges

• cleaner water and safer foods and medicines

• alternative, affordable energy resources

• equal access to health care

• safety in OUR streets, not in Baghdad's.

It is not policies, let alone promises, that will bring us any of these.

As an example, consider something that arouses emotion in just about all of us: the fate of New Orleans, with its bones still bleaching in the Louisiana sun. Why won't the government rebuild it?

Because New Orleans is rebuilt. The river trans-shipment ports are porting, the bankers are banking, the insurers are insuring, the tourists are touring - and to the government, there is no other policy concern.

Hospitals, schools, firehouses, policing services, public utilities, parks, playgrounds, schools and homes, and churches - they are matters now for the community, for someone else.

No government in Washington has the means or the will to treat New Orleans any differently. The government is off now, attending to other matters of policy.

After all: it's what we voted for in '04.

Look at the murders and crimes in our own small community, Carson. At the outcasts that populate the growing gangs, the addicted victims of deadly street drugs, the mothers who will trade on even their own children.

In this country, where there are permanent policy winners, there are permanent losers - the political prisoners of war of the parties and their supporters - who are not integrated into the whole structure of our polity as the Constitution intended, but locked out of it.

Given desperation and anger enough, they are capable of revenging themselves with unimaginable anger and cruelty.

How long can policies and promises hold them off?

• Robert Cutts is a career journalist who has been a news reporter, magazine writer and editor, author of two nonfiction books and a college journalism teacher. He lives in Gardnerville and Japan.


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