Many of us are not hardened partisans. We may lean toward one party or another, but we also see as essential the capabilities, experiences and character traits that lead to effectiveness in public office. Among them: trustworthiness, empathy, prudence, justice, scientific knowledge and appreciation for the executive job.
These essential traits are often at right angles to the left/right positioning of American politics, yet are most often critical to the attainment of a successful and tranquil society. They are neither complicated nor recent. Cyrus of Persia had many of them. Caligula of Rome had few. But the differences in results were appreciable. Cyrus was, and still is, revered. After Caligula was assassinated, Rome’s Senate ordered the destruction of his statues in hopes of eradicating him from history.
I promote the value of orthogonal politics not with any official or candidate in mind. Although the U.S. enjoys a noble history and a strong legacy of impressive accomplishments, it is prudent for us to critique both our situation and our politics for these reasons:
• Our fiscal deficits are climbing to the point where our country is now listed among the most indebted countries of the world in relation to its annual output (GDP).
• U.S. industrial output is increasing at a slower pace than many competitors, and the industries in which we are the industrial leaders are shrinking.
• U.S. corporate debt is higher now that it was before the Great Recession.
• Although the U.S. spends more on K-12 per-student education than nearly any other country, our students achieve mediocre scores on internationally standardized tests in science and mathematics — well below nearly all developed countries.
• At roughly double the cost levels of Western Europe, the U.S. is the world leader in health care costs, but with similar outcomes.
• The U.S. monthly non-petroleum trade deficit is worsening greatly, indicating both a weakening competitive position and a problematic future for industrial communities.
It is important for us to realize that none of the solutions to the above problems will dovetail neatly into the platforms of either of our major parties. We are going to have to work together. We will need new ideas, and we will all need to make some sacrifices. It is delusional for any of us to think that these serious realities can be resolved by some other group modifying their behavior while we remain static in our own behavior. We are going to have to pull together, explore new ideas, employ more rigorous analysis, and implement a more systematic and better engineered system than what we have currently. To pull this off, we will need credible leadership that can tap the best talents from societies many factions. We do not have the luxury of partisan bickering.
So, as I look to elections in the years hence, I don’t care much whether the winners are from one party or another. I do pray that our future leaders will have trustworthiness, empathy, prudence, justice, scientific knowledge and appreciation for the executive job.
Frederick Zimmerman is a professor emeritus from the University of St. Thomas and has served on the boards of directors of several companies.