The president's to-do list
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I have to write this before I know who won last night, so what I will try to address is some problems that Tuesday's victor will find on his desk when he wakes up this morning.
Of course, if Mitt Romney wins, he will first have to choose a new family pet that will agree to ride in a box on top of the White House limousine. If Barack Obama wins, he will have to devise a new strategy for the next four years to conceal the fact that he was born in Kyrgyzstan.
Apart from that, seriously, the havoc that Sandy has wreaked on the East Coast should put global warming close to the top of the president's "to do" list. Whether or not one believes that it is a problem that we mortals can do something about by modifying our role in raising the world's temperature, what is perfectly clear is that the global climate is acting sort of crazy and changing more rapidly than it used to, and that what it is doing is something against which we need to prepare to protect ourselves better. Recent assaults on our ability to live on this earth in assurance and tranquility have come recently from tsunamis, hurricanes, floods and severe drought.
There is a temptation to be fatalistic about these alleged acts of God. That is, of course, utter nonsense. Katrina is perhaps the best case in point. It devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. The most recent round, in the summer of this year, although less severe, didn't. New Orleans could have been protected much better than it was against Katrina. This time, it was hit, but with nothing like the level of destruction that characterized the 2005 storm.
One major step the United States could take to reduce the life-disturbing, life-threatening aspects of these storms is to put its electrical and communications wires underground, as is done in some of the world, reducing or getting rid of the very damaging, expensive, disruptive power cuts. The reasons put forward not to take this step are twofold: it would cost too much, it would be too disruptive. Which would Americans rather do -- have another Iraq or Afghanistan war? Iran, maybe? Iraq and Afghanistan cost $4 trillion. Or make a one-time, major modification of U.S. infrastructure that would change our lives for the better forever? It sounds easy to me and would put a lot of people to work.
Another phenomenon that either man as president will have to deal with eventually is what seems to be an accelerating wave of mass shootings across the country. We can list them -- Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Fort Hood, Tucson -- but the problem grows. We can't even get assault weapons off the street, and in some states, most recently Oklahoma, "open carry" is now the non-rule. It is an increasingly insane situation. Road rage and other shootings for nothing proliferate.
Some president is going to have to be prepared to take on the American gun lobby. We are not talking about Second Amendment purists or people who like to go out in Pennsylvania after Thanksgiving to thin out the deer population. We are talking about an organized gun industry with lobbyists that runs the National Rifle Association and uses its members to make the rules governing its marketing practices as loosely as possible. Mentally disturbed people get them and kill. Children get them and kill.
Another problem either man will be required to confront if he is to put his program into effect is the childish, selfish practice of the U.S. Senate to allow the threat to filibuster by either party or even an individual senator to impose 60 percent as the requirement to pass a bill, as opposed to a majority 50 percent-plus-one. The senators call this a rule. It isn't anywhere in the Constitution or anywhere else. It is a rule they put into place themselves to flatter and spoil each other. The practice is one major source of the paralysis the Senate has displayed in recent years in not addressing the nation's problems.
To support the concept, it would be necessary to argue that majority rule must not be allowed to prevail in the U.S. Senate.
There would be at least three ways any president could confront the 60 percent problem. The first would involve putting it squarely in front of the American people, criticizing the senators doing it by name, publicly and sharply. Second, if they were members of the president's own party he could tell them that he would oppose them sharply and publicly the next time they come up for election unless they cut it out. Third, he could tell them that unless they dropped the 60 percent procedure, he would veto any future legislation they attached their names to, no matter how meritorious it might otherwise be.
Inside the Senate, of course, senators opposed to this use of the filibuster threat could every time it was made call the hand of the senator making the threat. Make him stand up there filibustering all night for days, reading "The Pet Goat" or whatever, until the morning light, physical collapse or an unendurable call of nature intervened.
The final two items that should be on the president's agenda are hard to address, not knowing at this point where we are after Tuesday's vote. The idea that $6 billion was spent on this electoral campaign, with the sort of massive objectionable banalities that were thrown at us relentlessly during the course of it, as opposed to what use could be made of $6 billion in this country, is a scandal. Put $6 billion into the schools, into health care, into improving America's care of its aged, its attention to the veterans returning damaged and scarred from the last two wars, and put that alongside one more moronic television ad or, worse, one more robocall interrupting our meals.
The other scandal that a president should address is reform of our system of electing the president, the archaic, fundamentally undemocratic Electoral College process. Spare me the garbage about how it is a result of the way the original 13 colonies and our founding fathers put the place together. It is, as it exists, a basic denial in 2012 of the fundamental principle that is supposed to be at the core of our democracy -- one person, one vote. That it still exists is due to the fact that the people who would have to change it have a vested interest in keeping it in place -- no more, no less.
First Published November 7, 2012 11:21 am