What Kind Of Country Do We Want To Be?
by Scott Bittle
Values and choices.
That's what so many of the problems facing the nation come down to, and on this Fourth of July weekend, it's worth thinking about what that means – and why our public debate so often veers away from that.
Consider some of the challenges we face:
- The latest long-term projections for the federal budget range from what one magazine called the "improbable" to the truly disastrous. It's a good thing those aren't our only choices. The budget debate (click here to see video of our Washington, D.C., panel discussion on this issue) is only going to get fiercer as policy leaders start edging closer to dealing with the problems of health care costs and an aging population that are driving our long-term fiscal problems. But there are practical solutions to this problem, no matter whether you're coming at this from a liberal perspective, a conservative one, or anything in between.
- Immigration reform, the subject of a major speech this week by President Obama, is another problem that's debated fiercely but stalled as far as coming to solutions. Public Agenda's own research shows that immigrants "buy in" to American values and society, but their perceptions of some of the problems can be significantly different from those of native-born Americans.
- The Gulf oil spill is still gushing, and Congress is still only creeping toward changes on energy and climate policy. The fundamental challenge is that the world needs both more energy and cleaner energy. There are ways of making that happen, but it requires all of us to think about what our options really are, and what we're willing to do to get there.
- On education, we face decisions about how we give students the support they need to turn around our nation's dismal college completion rate. In public schools, we have equally tough decisions about how to hire – and keep – the best possible teachers.
Depressing thoughts for a holiday weekend? Not at all. There are practical options available to solve all these problems. But citizens need to think about what's important to them, and consider the tradeoffs inherent in making solutions stick. Policymakers need to consider how the public thinks about these social issues, and what they need to move up the "learning curve" and make informed choices.
And, after all, the public making its own decisions is what the Fourth of July is all about.