Jimmy Carter once opened an address to the nation with these words: "Tonight, I have some unpleasant news for you." His chances of re-election vanished soon after. And so, I dedicate my acceptance speech as your new president to Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States and the last honest politician:
My fellow Americans, this nation has become a tragic embarrassment. The American Dream is a joke. The dream has to do with iPods and plasma screen TVs and Hummers and McMansions. It infects us all.
And yet, we are mostly users, not sellers. We are not a bad lot, just an indifferent one. We sense the wrongness of it all. But we buy the stuff and watch the crap. Now, we are faced with the prospect of having to live within our means. This is not all bad: We may find we prefer lives unencumbered by massive debt and piles of useless and meaningless toys.
First, we must put a stop to a world driven by credit.
In the '90s, we saw the collapse of the stock market bubble. In this decade, we're mired in an unprecedented mortgage crisis. Look next to the collapse of the credit card industry. When card users start paying 22 percent interest on the gas and groceries they bought last month, can another disaster be far behind?
First, we must reduce the personal debt of our citizens. This nation cannot continue to live a lifestyle based, in effect, on a lie.
Second, by imposing strict limits on credit, we must learn to buy wisely. This will reduce frivolous spending, and since most of our purchases are for products we want but dont need, it will help us redefine happiness itself.
My government will also rein in the most opulent portions of the housing market. I will provide tax incentives and subsidize local property taxes on new home construction that limits house size to 1,500 square feet. It will impose such stiff penalties on oversized castles that even the most grandiose developers and home buyers will flinch at the costs of new homes that exceed an appropriate size.
The government will also subsidize homeowners who choose to downsize. Reduce your living area, and we will reward you.
As for population, we will set a limit of two dependents for children for federal tax credits. I would never tell a couple how many children they can have, but I have no problem insisting that if they choose to have a large family, they can pay for the expense.
Still, such actions are token at best. What will truly cause population reductions? The only decade in the 20th century that experienced almost negligible growth was the 1930s: the decade of the Great Depression. We may be forced to reduce our population because we simply cannot afford a larger one. But there is a silver lining: We may also discover that economic hardships create opportunities to live the kind of life that we long for.
As president, I support compulsory public service for all young Americans, male and female. They can serve their two years immediately after high school, or, if they choose to attend college, do so upon graduation. Either way, they will be rewarded with a free college education. They can then face the world, debt-free, and take the time they need to determine the kind of life they want. Compulsory public service could mean military service for those who choose it or else service in a revitalized Peace Corps. Mandatory compassion is our last hope.
I would also cut off federal funding to any university that pays its football coach more than its history professors.
What else will I do? Our wildlands are dwindling at an astonishing rate. My government will strive to expand those protected lands. But we will not allow the commercial exploitation of wilderness by oil and gas interests; nor will we will allow them to be exploited for their beauty or recreational opportunities. I also will end the commercial exploitation of all national parks and monuments and in all federally designated wilderness areas.
My fellow Americans, imagine a baseball stadium that isnt named for a corporate sponsor, one that still sells cheap seats and quarter hot dogs and 50-cent beer. Imagine a health-care system that puts its patients before its profit margin. Imagine a country of citizens, separated by conflicting views, but no longer fractured by them -- citizens who are willing to stand in the shoes of those on the other side, just for a moment, in search of understanding.
Imagine a country and a people with the humility to learn from mistakes.
Jim Stiles is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He is the publisher and editor of the Canyon Country Zephyr in Moab, Utah.
Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at firstname.lastname@example.org.