What we haven’t heard: Where do you stand on taboo issues

Brad Ayers

Intellectually insulting preliminary election pandering is blissfully finished, and we’re on the eve of what, hopefully, is a serious debate between candidates at the regional and national level.

The polarization on both sides of the St. Croix has never, in my experience, been more rabid.  So now comes the time and opportunity for those who propose to lead us to step forward and respond truthfully with their positions on gut issues so far conveniently ignored.

As a keen observer of the political scene, I challenge those seeking office to tell us where they stand on the following and let’s cease arguing over what rights we have over our own bodies and what religious persuasion offers the most expedient stairway to heaven.

Americas’ war-on-drugs: All available evidence — law enforcement, socio-cultural, medical treatment and rehab, etc. — indicates that illegal drug trafficking, use and demand is about the same, proportionate to population growth, as it was in the early 1980s when I signed on with DEA.  Billions upon billions of taxpayer’s dollars at all level of government have been spent on this so-called war that is reminiscent of the 1920s prohibition debacle. Incarceration statistics indicate fully one third of the nation’s prison population is there because of non-violent, relatively petty drug law violations. How would you suggest this expenditure of resources be reconciled with demonstrated results.

Reinstatement of military draft: For those of us who served during the Vietnam War era, the mantra-promise, “never again,” rings hollow as our country again has chosen to engage in two unnecessary wars with borrowed money. Both continue to be catastrophic strategic and tactical blunders at a mind-boggling cost of American lives and resources while we slide deeper and deeper into a domestic moral and economic abyss.

“Listen to the generals“ and  “we support the troops” have become faux patriotic clichés to scapegoat the reality of what we’ve done. The elitist, self-serving General Patraeus-West Point-ring knocker theory is as flawed as was the Vietnam War proponents 50 years ago. Nothing has changed:  How moral is it that we have less than one percent of Americans fighting and dying in these misguided engagements, the consequences of which will last for years to come.

Would not a reinstatement of the draft, where everybody has some skin in the game, impose some sanity on hawks in Congress and the Pentagon who keep leading us into these mindless, futile conflicts?

Our socio-cultural teaching-learning crisis: The comparative worldwide statistics are evidence that our schools, both public and private, particularly at the elementary and secondary level, are failing miserably. Kids are not coming away with the basic skills needed to cope with life’s realities, a sense of personal responsibility to contribute to the common good, and achieve productive, intellectually and morally fulfilling lives.

There is a void in the essential capacity in the need to exercise critical thinking. We see this around us daily, in politics, government, entertainment, the media and mass communication.  Nevertheless, the academic establishment is in a frenzy mode and always asking for more public funding or tuition increases to foster a reliance on computers and electronic gadgetry for generations to come, abandoning the time-proven fundamental principles of classroom instruction, direct personal teacher inspiration and interaction with the student.

What happens when computers, cell phones and electronic devices go dead? Take the technology away today and we have a huge population virtually lost in space. How would you bring some rationality and pragmatism to primary education in our country?

Infrastructure and public funding priorities: We see huge sports complexes being constructed all over the country, including in our own metropolitan area, many with some scheme for public funding or subsidy. Reported are the obscene salaries being paid to the gladiators and the TV/entertainment revenue flowing into the coffers of the very wealthy who own, manage and grow richer and richer from these cash cows.  Less than 25 percent of the population can afford even the least expensive ticket to an event, much less the cost of a concession treat.

In the shadow of most of these edifices, which dwarf those of ancient Rome, are neighborhoods of the underclass, somehow existing below the poverty median, children going hungry, attending marginally-funded public schools and challenged daily to survive in a hostile environment, facing a dead end future.

While this is going on, our infrastructure continues to rot before our eyes — roads and bridges in dire need of maintenance and repair, an electronic grid that hasn’t essentially been upgraded to accommodate demand in more than 25 years, an air traffic control system that’s on the verge of potentially tragic failure at any moment, emergency responders under constant threat of budget cut layoffs and equipment shortages, and environmental, conservation and wildlife concerns treated as an afterthought in public policy.

We love our sports, but not at the expense of the common good. There is a morality issue here that goes to the heart of economic disparity and conspicuous indulgence. And, in that context, I realize it might not be advantageous for a candidate to address the obesity-health epidemic in America when nearly half of the electorate is grossly overweight. What are your thoughts on these matters and what will you do in office to confront them?

As I reflect upon the foregoing, I’m reminded of the classic, clinical definition of insanity: continued deliberate, repeated behavior that has the same negative result. It seems to me that we Americans are in collective need of some serious therapy.

And, while I read, watch and listen to those aspiring to elected office only a few weeks away, I urge you to please address these issues.  Give us voters some specifics; some fresh, bold, imaginative ideas that might make us feel that voting is more than just a civic duty but an opportunity to affect change, buoyed by your values, priorities, and promise to confront the really tough issues of our day.  Stop ignoring the taboo. Tell us where you stand.

Brad Ayers is a regular Gazette columnist. He is a 77-year-old semi-retired military-CIA-DEA veteran. A St. Croix Valley native, he lives in the semi-wilderness in northwestern Wisconsin.