New Politics of the Future Investment Is the Key, Starting with Education and Infrastructure

Article excerpt

A DISTURBING shift has occurred in American politics: Our leaders no longer talk much about the future, at least not with any real optimism. In an atmosphere of fiscal paralysis and frequent scandal, political leaders have become crisis managers, too consumed with the present to think very far ahead. They have also grown more cautious and technocratic, less willing to argue passionately about the future of the nation. These trends help account for the public's declining interest in politics. But for my generation especially - those of us now coming of age and destined to live most of our lives in the 21st century - a political discourse which does not look to the future is of little interest. Worse, it is a discourse devoid of hope.

With a presidential election less than a year away, and with the perception growing that the country is stagnating, an opportunity is at hand to reinvent a politics of the future. A central theme of this politics should be national investment. The idea is not unfamiliar. For much of the 20th century, investing in tomorrow was an ongoing American crusade. Major initiatives in areas like education, housing, and infrastructure created a hopeful framework for discussing the future.

Such optimism and ambition no longer infuses American politics. Two decades of sluggish economic growth are partly to blame. More recently, the federal budget deficits, worrisomely high since the early 1980s, have served to limit the imagination. But most significantly, a decade of rule by anti-government presidents ended White House efforts to choreograph national progress.

The free market, Americans were told, would be the locomotive which would pull us to a better future. During the 1980s, investment was a word that Republicans used when talking about personal finances, not public policy. Between 1980 and 1990, federal nondefense spending declined as a percentage of the gross national product. In the process, government investment in the future plummeted, with cutbacks made in such programs as job training, preschool education, and research on renewable energy.

In pivotal areas which will affect national performance in the 21st century, the United States is woefully deficient: one in four children under the age of six live in poverty; 25 percent of high school students do not graduate; America lags behind other industrial nations in the training of scientists and engineers.

Today, members of both Congress and the executive branch are so overwhelmed by the current crisis that it is no wonder they don't speak much about the future. This year's budget deficit will run as high as $350 billion, adding to a national debt which is already over $3 trillion. The costs of the savings and loan scandal are just now being felt, and are likely to grow more burdensome in the next few years. …

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.