Why we need more James Polks

Summary

James J. Polk expanded the territory of the United States by about one-third during his tenure. A remarkable feat. Not only that, but it was done through an astonishing three ways: territorial conquest, gold and negotiation.

Some thoughts on why we should demand less rhetoric and more pragmatism/details from our presidents.

James J. Polk expanded the territory of the United States by about one-third during his tenure. A remarkable feat. Not only that, but it was done through an astonishing three ways: territorial conquest, gold and negotiation. And he did that after clearing setting out, before taking office, a set of objectives: reestablish the Independent Treasury System, reduce tariffs, acquire some or all of Oregon Country, and acquire California and New Mexico from Mexico. He accomplished each one.

Perhaps more than most presidents today, Polk was singularly devoted to the job. He personally organized the war and other aspects of the country. While he had multiple reasons for only running once, his ability to set a clear agenda at the beginning and achieve all of it by the end is something to be lauded.

Many presidents today enter the office without a couple of distinct objectives: they often have a vague notion of what they should do and their articulation to the public is equally obscure. This can be seen in the lofty rhetoric used and resorting to generalities rather than specific programs or policies. There is the normal 'I will increase jobs' or 'strengthen national security', but rarely the more useful 'The Highway Trust Fund will be ameliorated' or 'The Army Corps of Engineers will be reviewed'.

When was the last time a president focused on soil and the massive degradation to this essential resource occurring throughout the country? The increased acidity of the oceans and implications for both biodiversity and food supply? How often is the enormous waste of water and the various inter-state battles that will be fought in the coming years (e.g. Arizona v. California)? Where are the specific details, the mention of actual programs?

The runaway rhetoric, partisanship and dogma that have prevailed must be put on a leash. It is not just wishful thinking, but essential that we move toward a pragmatic government. This occurs all the time at many levels of government, such as Metropolitan Transportation Plans, but there is a need for national leadership to make some initiatives happen. Creating an infrastructure bank to help fund initiatives like Measure R (Los Angeles's way of funding its Metro Rail system) would do wonders to help prepare us for the post-oil era. Launching a single, well-designed, public website that helps shine light on crucial, unsexy issues facing the country and resources to educate and guide citizens to action are sorely lacking. Less rhetoric, more action. We need more engineers and scientists in office.

Ron Paul has the right idea, the Tea Party had begun to shine light on the tough questions, but there is a crucial aspect that goes missing. Government, by itself, is not inherently evil or good. It should serve one purpose: fund projects that benefit no single person or entity but which will improve the country as a whole. We need leaders with vision, but more importantly, ones who can also tell us the details. Because without the details, we might as well be voting to give someone a blank check.

-biafra
bahanonu [at] alum.mit.edu

©2006-2017 | biafra ahanonu | updated 12 december 2017
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