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A shadow for debate

POSTED November 13, 2009 10:22 p.m.
I’ll be the first to admit that I do my best to avoid national news, despite being absolutely fascinated by the intricate politicking that goes on in Washington.
Quite frankly, I just can’t stand the lack of substance to the discussion on vital issues such as health care reform, cap and trade global warming legislation, and bailouts that America will spend decades paying off. All I hear are rage-filled accusations that any Obama policy will bankrupt the nation, with no one offering any solutions to the real problems that cannot be simply shoved under the carpet.
I could take the easy route to explaining my disdain for national news, targeting the talking-head messengers for their often intolerant, questionably researched talking points. I could go after the networks and newspapers for hiring these individuals and forcing certain viewpoints through the airwaves and presses.
But, instead, I choose to blame our political parties for lacking the desire to debate policy in a public forum.
For as long as I can remember, opposition parties have grandstanded and complained about the serving president’s policies. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, the opposition never seems to offer any alternatives to these issues.
Those who have short-term memories may thankfully forget the insufferable anti-George W. Bush rhetoric spewed by the Democratic Party. For eight years the news carried Democrats’ quotes full of lamentations on Bush’s War on Terror, offshore drilling, and No Child Left Behind.
These programs would spell the demise of America, they said. And while each program did, admittedly, have its faults, I don’t believe I ever heard one clear, concrete proposal for an alternate solution to these issues facing the country — a credible terrorist threat, record-setting gas prices, and poor performance in American schools — despite the fact that something clearly had to be done.
The Republican Party has done no better through President Barack Obama’s first year, mind you. In fact, if anything they’ve done worse by refusing to drop the issue of Obama’s birthplace and religion, despite overwhelming evidence that Mr. Obama is who he says he is.
Yes, opposition party, we realize you will blindly oppose any policy proposed by the ruling party. It’s your job to recognize that any proposal has a downside, and then to speak as loudly as possible about those drawbacks.
But I want substance to my policy debates. I want actual debates, where both sides offer solutions to the real problems at hand.
In order to facilitate such discussion, I believe the opposition party should take a page from British politics and form a Shadow Cabinet. After all, we already took our land from England. It’s time we borrowed something else from them as well.
In countries as varied as Israel, Italy, Australia and Japan, the opposition party appoints its own “Shadow Cabinet,” despite not holding the presidency or seat of prime minister. These shadow governments have no real power, but are responsible for making public the issues with and options to any proposed policy.
For example, the Republicans might appoint Indiana Senator Richard G. Lugar to be Shadow Secretary of State. It would then be Sen. Lugar’s responsibility to “shadow” the real Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, and to critique every aspect of foreign policy while offering alternative solutions. Luger would, in effect, become the Republican point man and spokesperson on all matters foreign policy.
If the Journal employed a Shadow Columnist, he or she would take this opportunity to critique my suggestion of the creation of an American Shadow Cabinet. He or she would, likely, make the argument that such a creation is unnecessary in our system of government, and that our system of committees and minority chairs and leaders creates de facto “shadow secretaries.” These individuals ought to make better use of their positions to draft alternatives to legislature they oppose, and then to make these alternatives known to the public.
As your normal, appointed columnist, I could now begin holding debate with the shadow columnist, arguing that reforming the present system — in this case thrusting more responsibilities on legislators already taxed with plenty to do — rarely works. A new power structure would be more easily established, and be more effective than redefining the entrenched roles of existing positions.
We could go on, back and forth in this debate, for some time. But at least we’d be having a public discussion about this issue, hopefully coming up with the best solution for America in the process.
It is entirely possible that the current state of political discussion is entirely intentional. Parties may believe that Americans do not truly care about policy. Were that the case, however, I would think that the strong incumbent George H. W. Bush would have won a second term in his 1992 election. Bill Clinton made that upset happen by pointing out the folly of Bush’s tax increases, a policy decision.
Until Americans stand up and demand a public discussion of alternative policies, I fear we are in for more of the same yelling, screaming, and disingenuous discussion of vital issues.
In pursuit of transparent, reasoned governance, the only thing we have to fear is fear mongering itself.
To contact Alex Cantatore to debate any issue — or to sign up for the post of Shadow Columnist — e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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