Are budgets a true litmus test for politicians?

It’s now official. Jack Carter, eldest son of former president Jimmy Carter, has thrown his hat into the ring in Nevada. He will be competing with other Democrats for the opportunity to unseat John “Goodhair” Ensign, the freshman Republican senator from the Sagebrush State.

February 6 was the scheduled pronouncement date, prefaced by the appearance of father and son, Jimmie and Jack, on Larry King Live, the TV baptismal font during the past two decades for launching political careers. That’s where I saw Jack Carter… for the first time in my life. As vividly as I remember daughter Amy, brother Billy, strong-willed Rosalynn (wife) and an even stronger-willed Lillian (mother), I knew next to nothing of President Carter’s three sons. For a minute, I was asking myself whether I was witnessing another dynasty in the making in American politics.

But it wasn’t long before I was telling myself that the Carter dynasty started and ended in Plains, Georgia… and that Jimmie was it. If Jack tries to follow in his dad’s footsteps, mixing honesty and politics, he is not likely to get very far. In fact, the anomaly of Carter being elected in 1976 probably had less to do with Carter himself, and more to do with the then political pause following the still-fresh Watergate. It was but a short breather in politics before the mirage from the West, Ronald Reagan, would take center stage.

However, neither President Carter nor his progeny Jack are the subject of today’s column. Only what Jack said at one point during the interview comes to play with my thesis for the week. It was a statement he made, so naïve that did not seem plausible coming from an educated, intelligent man… that no doubt Jack is. His contention, if I heard him correctly, is that all Americans adhere to the same values; well, 95% of them- values or Americans, take your pick. I sensed that he was extrapolating his childhood and early experiences in Plains to the entire nation, depicting a cross-section of America that is Pollyannaish make-believe. But America is not Plains; never was; never will be.

Americans need not be defensive or embarrassed by their diversity, not in backgrounds or ideologies, and should cast aside the politicians’ rallying cry of “American traditional values” for the myth it really is. Politicians, both Republican and Democrat, have been pounding on that theme to keep us captive and obedient of the status quo, to hide their ineffectiveness and to maintain their incumbency. In truth, we, Americans, are people just like any others on earth, perhaps more fortunate than most in many ways, but with the same emotions and much the same aspirations. But being fortunate does not imply being a “chosen people.” Yet politicians, and some religious leaders, try to tell us that we are second-tier Israelites, already living in the Promised Land.

Instead of succumbing to the politicians’ charms, which are but a way to dress up their lies, we should be taking them to task; to a continuous scrutiny to determine what it is exactly that they are doing for us, for the well-being of the citizens; for those of us who are now here, and those who have yet to come: the future generations of Americans for whom nobody seems to give a damn. Scrutiny… and a litmus test as the final exam.

The litmus test that comes to mind has nothing to do with religious or moral issues; only our societal well-being and that of our children… and their children. It has to do with budgets: how revenues are collected and how they are to be spent. A litmus test that needs to be given to all politicians, at local, state and federal levels… although our focus, as a nation, must be on those politicians holding the executive and legislative reins in Washington.

And what will the litmus test show? Simply a politician’s true color in a spectrum of only two: either a “pro-people” red or “pro-powerful” blue… all politicians to form a line, with the POTUS himself at the head of it.

This past week Bush unveiled his Fiscal 2007 proposed budget: a tidy $2.77 trillion. In his visit to New Hampshire, a sign was strategically placed for news cameras during his 50-minute budget introductory speech. It read: “Funding America’s Priorities.” No one will quarrel with that stance… except that there are two Americas, each with entirely different priorities. One, Bush’s America, that unapologetically makes its priorities increased wealth and power for a chosen few, and a strong military to help this elite preserve such power and wealth, as if divinely granted.

The other: the America that most of us, overwhelmingly, belong to. An America with priorities that range from energy independence, to education/training necessary to be able to compete in the world’s marketplace, to a more equitable distribution of wealth, in line with what other developed economies, also democracies, have.

It would seem that in a tag of war among these two set of priorities; Bush’s elite would undoubtedly lose. That would be true if only the budget litmus test was applied; but unfortunately, our Religious Fundamentalist brethren prefer to use their own litmus test, one based strictly on faith. So divided and conquered we stand, or rather, kneel… to the politicians who are themselves part of the elite. If only both religious and heathen amongst us plain folk would opt for a truce, then perhaps “American traditional values” would cease to be a myth after all, and the country could work towards a future for all.

That’s the way Jack Carter sees America… and many of us wish we did, too.