By Donella Meadows
–July 24, 1992–
Though I hadn’t made up my mind to vote for Ross Perot, I was sorry to see him leave the campaign. I like him, for the same reasons that I like Jesse Jackson.
They are both delightfully unprofessional. They won’t submit to the grooming and polishing of party machines. They don’t need polls to know what to say. With toally different styles — rolling, rhythmic moral thunder and dry Texas twang — they communicate better than the Great Communicator Ronald Reagan ever did. Reagan was a puppet with a warm twinkle in his eye, reading lines written by someone else. Perot and Jackson are real.
These two, and only these two, wake me up when they talk politics. They seem more interested in solving problems than in winning power. They don’t chant “middle class” or “family values” or some other vaguery designed to jerk my emotions without engaging my intellect. They treat me not as an object of marketing, but as a trustee of democracy. I know, it’s strange to resonate with two people who come from opposite ends of the conventional political spectrum. but between them, they stand for everything I want stood for. I even think they stand on common ground — which says something about the meaninglessness of the conventional political spectrum.
Jackson wants to bring the excluded into the community and economy. Perot says it’s time to get beyond divisiveness and pull together as one nation. Jackson has no sympathy for government handouts to fat cats. Perot calls for cuts in subsidies to big farmers, cuts in Social Security for the rich, cuts in tax breaks on mortgages over $200,000. Neither of them thinks the Gulf War made sense. Both of them tear into the system through which money and lobbying undermine the voice and will and good of the people.
Maybe it’s just as well that I won’t get to vote for Perot or Jackson. I suspect that both are better analysts and articulators than administrators. But without them I’m stuck, like so many Americans, wondering what to do with my political disgust. I’m too mad to give up and drop out. I guess what I have to do is stop waiting for a knight in shining armor and start charging into the fray myself.
To begin, I’m going to jigger the polls. Polls have become devices for manipulation, not information. The questions are rigged, the answers are used against us. When I am polled, which happens a lot here in New Hampshire, I’ll lie. If even a small percent of us do that, the polls will become unreliable. Politicians will have to think for themselves.
I’m not going to watch commercial television, with its photo-ops and sound bites. I’ll be immune from Willie Horton ads, because I won’t see them. I’ll watch conventions and debates, but beyond that I’ll get my news from public radio and newspapers.
They will tell me if there’s negative campaiging going on, and I’ll shun any candidate who engages in it. I want to hear politicians talk about their own good points, not the other side’s bad points. I’m going to do more than shun mudslingers; I’m going to protest, loudly, to their campaign headquarters, so they know what I think of people who degrade the political process.
I’m also going to complain when the candidates or the media drag the conversation into triviality. This election is not about pledging allegiance, furloughs for criminals, Hillary Clinton’s cookies, or Dan Quayle’s spelling. It’s about a nation that is hemorrhaging into debt. It’s about the new world after the Cold War. The Supreme Court and our civil rights. Education, environment, health care, and the economy. Above all, it should be about reform of the poltical system. I want to hear what each candidate is going to do to stop narrow, well-funded special interests from buying our democracy. Until that changes, there’s not a hope of solving any other problem.
I’m going to focus on more than the presidency. The media like to create and follow stars, they dwell on personalities, they make too much of the presidency and too little of Congress, governorships, state legislatures. This is a government with divided and distributed powers. I want all of it to work.
I will let the candidates know that I am a grown-up. I’m willing to pay taxes in order to have a functioning government. I’ll pay enough so that we don’t have to borrow away our future. I don’t want to talk about not raising taxes; I want to talk about how to assess taxes fairly and spend them wisely.
I will refuse to get flummoxed by false choices. Surely it’s possible to have both thriving businesses and economic justice, We can manage the federal budget while investing in the welfare and productivity of the people. We don’t have to choose between the economy and the environment — we can’t have one without the other. I want leaders who believe in and search for policies that pass both the practical scrutiny of a Perot and the moral scrutiny of a Jackson — leaders who give me less either/or and more both/and.
Frankly, I’d prefer a knight in shining armor to take care of these matters for me, so I could concentrate on my own little problems. But my own little problems become unsolvable if my country is indebted, corrupt, depressed, and paralyzed by ideology. If there’s any lesson to be learned from the current state of the nation, it’s that our democracy needs more than Ross Perot to save it. It needs us all.
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1992