Let me convey three core values that shape how I think about the world and approach solutions to its problems.
Value #1: It’s Our Children
I value and care for others — their health, their happiness and their prosperity. I care not one iota about their race, their religion, their sex, whom they love, their nationality, their degrees, their wealth, their physical condition or their pedigree. I particularly care about our children, all our children. I also care deeply about people who aren’t Americans. But a President’s first priority is the security and welfare of the American public, including its future members.
When Bill Clinton ran for the presidency in 1992, his campaign’s mantra was, It’s the Economy, Stupid. His slogan was chosen to remind his campaign staff that the path to victory involved stressing economic problems. My mantra is It’s Our Children. I didn’t invent it to get elected. I’ve been focusing on the treatment of children for decades. A primary area of my research has been “generational accounting,” a method to measure the fiscal burdens we are imposing on our children. It’s no coincidence that the first three books I mentioned above all have the word “generation” in their titles.
It’s Our Children should be our permanent national mantra. Unfortunately, it’s far from it, thanks to the politicians. As Jefferson put it well: “A politician looks forward only to the next election. A statesman looks forward to the next generation.” Our country is sorely lacking in forward-looking statesmen and stateswomen. But we’re chock full of politicians – politicians who have gravely damaged our country and our children’s future. Unless they are stopped, they will do even more harm. Fortunately, a growing number of Americans are turning away from the politicians. The share of unaffiliated voters is now almost 50 percent – the highest percentage in 75 years. Trust in the government – that is, in the two parties — is at an all-time low.
Our treatment of our children is, to use Mark Twain’s expression, passing strange. Each of us would name our children as more important than anything else in the world. But as a group we let one-third grow up in abject poverty, provide many if not most with second-rate educations, watch two of them die each day from gun violence, let them go deeply in debt, let new technology take their jobs without raising as much as an eyebrow, incarcerate them at extremely high rates, bequeath them old and crumbling infrastructure, leave them a mountain of fiscal bills, make them fight unwinnable wars, threaten their climate and place them at existential risk by letting rogue states acquire nuclear weapons. Add to this the high rate of youth unemployment and the fact that inflation-adjusted wages are no more than they were in 1965, and It’s Our Children becomes a moral imperative.
I’ve been connecting these terrible dots for many years. I’m not the only one. Candidates Sanders, Clinton, Trump, Kasich, Cruz, Rubio and other candidates have, as a group, raised many of these issues during their campaigns. The real questions are whether either party understands the magnitude of this collective child abuse, whether either party knows how to stop it and whether, given our nation’s vicious political civil war, the two parties can work together without a politically neutral President to lead them.
Value #2: Respecting Others’ Opinions
My second core value is tolerance and respect for others’ opinions, including those with extreme views. Just because they are extreme doesn’t mean they are wrong, let alone completely wrong. I try to go beneath the words and figure out where people are coming from.
Take members of the Tea Party, many of whom view government as public enemy number one. That sounds extreme. But we are all fed up to the gills by government bureaucracy.
Consider as an example the paperwork facing a hypothetical small company — ABC Corporation, which sells its products in all 50 states. ABC has to file a federal corporate tax return annually, withhold FICA taxes for each employee monthly, withhold federal income taxes for each employee monthly, withhold unemployment insurance premiums for each employee monthly, withhold state income taxes for each employee in the 42 states and cities with income taxes monthly, file 42 state corporate income-tax returns annually, file 42 quarterly estimated state corporate tax returns, file 50 state sales tax returns (quarterly, in many cases), send separate annual reports to all 50 states, pay annual special registration fees to most states, file a special annual report to ABC’s state of incorporation, pay a special fee to ABC’s state of incorporation, and the list goes on.
ABC, recall, is a small business. It can handle all this paperwork on its own — and have time to do nothing else — or it can hire a fulltime bookkeeper, a payroll processing firm, an accounting firm that specializes in state income taxes, another accounting firm that specializes in state sales taxes and yet another firm to help it comply with reporting to its state of incorporation. This can easily cost ABC $150,000 a year – a lot of money for a small company.
Social Security, with its maddening rules within rules within rules, like a million Russian nesting dolls, is another example of government out of control. Unfortunately, it’s just one of roughly 40 transfer programs and tax systems that bureaucrats have, it seems, designed to drive us stark-raving mad. This complexity has a purpose. It provides the bureaucrats lifetime employment. It also let’s politicians slip provisions into complex legislation that favor their contributors.
Now when a Republican like Ted Cruz says that he wants to abolish the Internal Revenue Service, my first reaction is: “Gee, that’s crazy.” But then I think some more and realize where he’s coming from. Ted Cruz is not my friend, my acquaintance or someone I admire. But he and his supporters are coming from a place the President has to understand. Abolishing the IRS isn’t on my agenda. But radically simplifying our taxes and transfer programs certainly is. So too is directly helping small businesses comply with their paperwork at an extremely low cost.
Being able to listen carefully to people’s legitimate frustrations and respond to them is a prerequisite for leading our country. I talk to both Republicans and Democrats and hear the same refrains. Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and former Democratic Congressman Barney Frank have both told me, while shaking their heads, that the relationships between politicians of different parties are simply poisonous, particularly in the House. It’s not just that Republicans and Democrats in Congress no longer grab a meal together to talk and listen to one another. It’s far worse. House Democrats and Republicans seen riding an escalator together have, I’ve been told, been disciplined by their respective leaders! Yes, it’s that crazy these days in DC.
Each party speaks with its own buzzwords, which drive the other side to distraction. For example, when Republicans say the words “flat tax,” the Democrats hear “help the rich,” even though the Republicans are thinking about work incentives, including better work incentives for the poor. And when the Democrats say the word, “inequality,” the Republicans hear “90 percent top tax bracket,” even though Democrats have nothing close to that in mind.
Only a politically neutral President will be able to translate for each side and get each party to listen to the other. But my election will also materially alter how people, including members of Congress, view the two political parties. It will demonstrate that the candidate, not their party, matters and that in the internet age candidates no longer need the parties to represent them. This will make our elected officials start thinking and acting for themselves, which will radically change personal dynamics and free members of Congress to enact real reform.
Value #3: Telling the Truth
My final core value is telling the truth. This is the minimum every President owes the public, yet politicians aren’t typically keen on the truth. They are sure it will cost them votes. But the cost of their dissembling, half-truths and outright lies is far too often measured in something far more precious than election victories. It’s measured in the lives of young Americans sent to fight unwinnable wars and in the lives of civilians caught in the crossfire.
On the domestic front our politicians have, as I’ve said, been concealing our true fiscal condition for years. It’s now truly grave. I’ll make clear just how grave shortly. This policy of fiscal deception is a ticking economic time bomb that can destroy our own and our children’s economic lives.
For me, telling the truth is simply instinctive. It’s also the most fundamental duty as an academic. Society has given academics a sacred and privileged duty to extend knowledge – knowledge of what’s true, not what’s convenient. So as President, you can count on me to tell you exactly where things stand provided, of course, that national security will not be jeopardized.