Congress is not healthy for children and other living things…or compassionate candidates.
By Peter Strauss
Unbeknownst to most people I recently made a decision not to run for Congress representing our 24th District. I was approached in June and met in Washington with Democratic Party officials and White House political directors. Apparently they saw me as a worthy candidate who might have unseated the 22-year incumbent who is our Congressman.
The decision not to run, reached after days, weeks, and months of deliberation, has left me ill at ease. The problems ahead-health care reform, war, environment, immigration, the deficit and jobs among many others-did not deter me. We are, after all, a country of problem solvers. Nor was I dissuaded by the angry voices of extremists.
I felt secure I have political skills and the passion to devote myself to an idealistic and rational, compassionate philosophy. I was eager to hear and represent the voices of our district. I was ready to make a commitment that would have asked profound sacrifice on the part of my wife and family and to have terminated my career as an actor.
So why did I chose not to run?
Upon closer examination the landscape that lay before me was dour indeed. In fact it appeared completely compromised. What first sobered me was the amount of money I would have to raise to run a Congressional campaign for District 24. Early estimates were 2.6 to 3 million dollars! And therein was a dilemma: how does one accumulate that much money and not owe someone… somewhere…. something? Isn't that the fundamental conflict of democratic principals?
But it was the perception of powerlessness that really alarmed me, as if Congress is oblivious, blind. I don't only mean to the poor or those trapped in misfortune.
I mean… all of us!
The greatest crises confronting this country…as insidious an enemy as terrorism…but from within… are the growing power exerted by major corporations to affect any and all governmental decision making… and the devaluation of public education.
Congress has become an entrepreneurial venture.
There cannot be genuine health care reform when almost every politician who casts votes has accepted massive amounts of money from the very industry they are being asked to reform; there cannot be crucial Wall Street reform when Congressional members have accepted millions, yes millions of dollars, from the very industry they are being asked to reform. There cannot be any real reform when all members of Congress stand to enrich themselves and not the people they are pledged to serve; the system that funnels money into their "reelection campaigns" is vote buying. Period.
Are we to let Citi, Bear Stearns, Chrysler, and Blue Cross become the decisive factor in our children's future??
But we, the people, would seem powerless to change that. Because there is an inherent problem when we turn to government to solve problems when they are responsible for the problems. It's their game; the anemic compromises they unctuously announce are really "smoke and mirrors." Fat on bailouts and bonuses corporations become even more brazen as they attempt to sway voters with massive capital investment in campaigns themselves. We are marketed, manipulated, and misinformed… but not fooled. We know this is not the essence of good government we ever subscribed to. Yet our representatives will point to their flag lapel buttons and assure us they are the true patriots. The defenders of capitalism. But when capitalism overrules the people America is not democratic.
Visit the website www.opensecrets.org and there revealed is Congress…in all its ugliness and corruption. Herein lies the real "stimulus" that motivates all Representatives and Senators to make choices regardless of the voices of the voters.
And what of education…that made America great? The dumbing down of America, the tone of coarseness that envelops us from media to sports to government coupled with reduced education funding would suggest a horror film plot of a growing menace. And yet…why do we allow government to feed itself while starving education? In our district students applied to CSU campuses in record numbers this year. Applications are up by 53 percent over last year, but the system is raising fees by 32 percent while cutting enrollment and classes. State funding is down by 7 billion!
This is as obscene as Wall Street bailouts and bonuses.
Under-funding education is shooting ourselves in the foot. It is education that enables us to compete globally. From it emanates the innovation that leads to technologies that foster industries like green and biotech technologies that produce…yup, jobs! That is the road to economic recovery!
Those denied education-especially those from minorities or poverty who need education as stepping-stones are particularly vulnerable and dependent on government protection. Left in limbo they are abandoned-as if unseen-on a precarious landscape that accentuates disparity. And it becomes dangerous. Look at the current divisive and angry tone.
If it is hunger, lack of opportunity, and the absence of education that produces growth in crime … then it facilitates the extremist's sly demand for tough "law and order." Unemployment of significant numbers and duration provides fertile ground for those fanning and focusing the fires of hatred-their sights set on immigrants, the poor, and social justice advocates. Add to that none-too-subtle racism and we are divided and conflicted as to the true identity of our American character, especially when we vilify those struggling to transition into their American dream.
The extremists do not reflect the America I love. America is not a "them" versus "us." It is a "we." And it is education that has always served to equalize us.
We, the people, must regain control of our government and away from corporate interference; we need to reclaim the fundamental principles of good governance. When we promote well-being for all, inclusion rather than exclusion, when we end inequities that cause suffering… that is the real American character.
So, problem solvers…how do we do that?
Ojai resident Peter Strauss is an actor and citrus grower. He was recently awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Ojai City Council.