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America’s Big Idea

Posted on March 4th, 2008 by Will Marre.
Categories: ADP Diary, Career, Community, Education, Leadership, Lifestyle, Relationships.

As the primary election season gives way to the general election I am concerned that the battle for the White House is still a war of new sound bites hiding tired ideas. Something more is needed.

How We Lost Our Vision

If you think wisdom, integrity, and new ideas are missing in our government leaders, you are not alone. That’s because both major political parties have lost their understanding of the four values America is centered on: freedom and responsibility, opportunity and equality.

America’s promise has always been that you can determine the quality of your own life. Where you start in life does not determine where you finish. We strive to be a society that promotes the key conditions to help us optimize our quality of life no matter what our circumstances. Doing that isn’t easy. It requires constantly balancing four distinct priorities: freedom and responsibility, opportunity and equality. If any one of these values are lost or even de-emphasized, our system is thrown out of balance. People lose confidence and our national mood sours. Today, lots of us are in a sour mood. The ideology of the left screams for personal freedom and equality. The right insists that personal responsibility and unfetter opportunity are America’s only true values. But these arguments lead us nowhere. Both sides are correct but incomplete. The result is a distorted, twisted gridlock of half-baked compromise in action. America’s true center is not the mid-point between big paternalistic government and greed-based free-for-all. Our founders understood it as a higher center. The optimization of these four ideals, not their compromise.

When leaders govern from the high center, they do it from a balance point that gives all of us the best chance for life, liberty and happiness. That’s why, most of the time, leaders who advocate policies that respect all four values simultaneously make the most sense to the most of us.

Jefferson’s “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” was designed to expand in meaning as our vision expands. The question today is, are we really committed to these ideals? As a nation are we really interested in removing the causes of avoidable suffering? Things like substandard education, unaffordable housing and health care, urban and school violence to name a few.
Shouldn’t we all be working to ensure that the real American Dream flourishes not only in the productive, creative expression of our own freedom, but also in our mutual responsibility to create a physically and psychologically healthy society for our children? All of our children?

So now our media-trained politicians tell us they are all for change. But is it really change? A Right-based platform of low taxes and uninvolved government and big military is hardly a plan that accounts for what’s happening in our lives and the world. And Left-based high-tax, we’ll-solve-all-your-problems program sounds like the 1960’s Great Society recycled. Perhaps there’s another way. A way that starts with the fundamentals of our founders. When we view the future through the lens of optimizing freedom and responsibility, equality and opportunity for all, a New American Agenda emerges.

The New American Agenda is simple: we must demand better from our government. Government has the central role in providing a safe society needed for Life and a fair society that is the meaning of Liberty. Together these play the major role in creating conditions for the pursuit of Happiness. According to research from the World Values survey, countries in which citizens report the most personal well-being have most of the following characteristics. As you read them, think about how we’re doing. What direction is America headed in?

1. Citizen voice.
2. Fair and equal enforcement of laws.
3. Lack of violence.
4. Leadership accountability.
5. Dependable government services.
6. Absence of corruption.
7. Effective regulations.
8. Universal Access to Capital, Health care, and Education.
9. Fair and Simple Taxation
10. Strong, Wise, and Good Foreign Policy

Well, that’s the list. If you’d like my perspective on what each one of these 10 factors might mean in terms of policy changes for 21st century America, download the 4th American Revolution excerpt. It’s free. You can read it on your computer or print it. I wrote it to help us consider what advice we might give the candidates who are running for president. If enough of us speak up, in time we may have the country we want our children to grow up in.

Will Marre

To visit American Dream Project’s home page, click here.
To see video blogs on this topic, visit