America, Where Are You?

Is this crop of presidential candidates really the best we can do? The leading Democrat represents the interest of corruption while the leading Republican represents the interest of vulgarity. It's a new low.

I don't blame the candidates. They are opportunists, and they've sniffed out their moment. It's the rank and file -- you and I -- that need to take responsibility. We know the country has gone awry. We know the "too big to fail" doctrine only actually helped the "big." We know that Iraq and Afghanistan are a wash at the cost of too many young American lives. We know that, as Paris burns, the fire gets frighteningly closer and closer to these shores. And we don't know what to do. That's why Trump and Clinton have gone so far. They are the candidates of the lost.

For those who criticize the missed presidency of Barack Obama, they should take a step back and realize his legacy reflects our own civic paralysis. Our political parties play to their bases because the extremists are the only ones who seem to care about government. Americans don't vote, and, as political scientist Robert Putnam made clear at the turn of the millennium in his classic book Bowling Alone, we don't care about community that much anymore either.

I never thought I would yearn for the days of G.W. Bush and Al Gore. But, however ineffective, at least those candidates articulated broad frameworks of vision. They didn't seem to be in it only to have a chance to accumulate power, which is, after all, what Clinton and Trump so obviously have in common.

What can we do? How does America find herself again and reach a place of clear public vision? If we can do that, then our politics will fall into place and maybe even an authentic leader will emerge.

The most important step is to eliminate the primary process. Yes, the primaries were supposed to reform backroom party convention deals to put up Presidential candidates. But they have devolved to become the forum of dangerously extremist politics, because these zealous primary voters have become the voices candidates worry about most. If we can go back to the kind of nomination process that got the likes of JFK elected, at least a plurality of interests will be involved. Today we can trust in the diversity of America, now in full play, to allow for a more representative party coalition when nominating a candidate.

Second, and perhaps even more difficult than electoral reform, is for America to fully comprehend that with the loss of its middle class it is in decline for all. I care for the poor, and I have no enmity towards the rich. But the hard truth is that when a country's middle class erodes, so does its stability. The "too big to fail" doctrine certainly helped the "big," but we put a band aid on our economy without really correcting it. Imagine the Tea Party merged with the barely standing Occupy movement. They are flip sides of the same public coin, fed up with a distant elite running our national show and playing to the basest sides of human nature.

Imagine a bipartisan national grassroots organization articulating a reasoned, thoughtful policy on immigration, taxation, manufacturing, foreign policy, education, healthcare, and beyond. A New Year is coming. It is a holiday season. The Faith and Public Policy Roundtable stands ready to be a voice of the silent, shut out American center in the public square. The dialogue begins here and now. Let's start a movement that signifies America has found herself again.