At this critical time in history, with the threat of never ending war foreshadowing the devastation of global climate change, what values, philosophy or ideology would the ideal leader represent? If we could reach above the superficiality of personality traits, how would such a leader present himself and where would she make a stand?
Wherever one fits on the spectrum of political ideology, there are three monumental problems looming on the horizon, overwhelming all other concerns. The ideal leader must recognize what they are, what they are not, and attack them with the intensity and commitment of resources they demand. Moreover, such a leader must understand that the problems are interrelated and the solutions must be taken as one.
The problems of war, industrial pollution and the decline of the working class in a global economy are the pre-eminent issues of our time. Before we even address potential solutions, accepting that these are the pre-eminent issues means that all other concerns are at best secondary and should not be the foundation of any national political campaign.
This is not to say that other issues are not important. Some, including indigenous rights, civil rights, civil liberties, the restoration of New Orleans and election reform, are near to my heart and should be addressed but they belong in smaller universe.
In short, the ideal leader must be focused on the dominant issues and must be able to communicate the importance of these concerns above all others. When addressing the traditional wedge issues, the ideal leader will begin by exposing them as distractions and proceed to common ground.
For example, on the issue of abortion, we can all agree on the goal of reducing the incidence of abortion to an absolute minimum. How do we move toward that goal? Through early and comprehensive education, ready availability of birth control, access to local health clinics and availability of the morning-after pill, we can make significant inroads. Those who oppose such measures on religious or moral grounds are in fact standing in the way of progress toward reducing abortion.
On the issue of same-gender marriage, we should agree that all citizens have a right to equal treatment under the law. It is one of the essential responsibilities of government to protect the rights of minorities. If that can be accomplished without affecting the religious sensitivities that the institution of marriage engenders, so be it. If it cannot, then the institution itself must be reformed for the government cannot be party to an inherently discriminatory institution. All individuals should have the right to enter into any contractual agreement that does not infringe on the rights of others.
On immigration, the ideal leader would explain that if we could deport all illegal aliens and make the borders impenetrable, our wages would continue to decline, job exportation would accelerate, we would still lose our homes to rising debt and we would still be without affordable health care and retirement benefits. The only significant change, aside from the negative effects, would be that we would no longer be able to blame immigrants for the crimes of corporations.
Ultimately, the importance of these issues must be weighed against the prospects of global economic collapse, genocidal mass destruction and the extinction of the human race. At times such as these, the only real sin is to ignore the greater problems by obsessing on lesser matters.
The problem raised by the Global War on Terror goes well beyond the borders of Afghanistan and Iraq. Indeed, at a time when resources are becoming scarce, the problem is infinitely greater than the immediate loss of life. It has been estimated that the cost of the war initiated after the tragedy of 9-11, currently being fought on two fronts, will soon cross over the trillion-dollar mark and will inevitable mark a second trillion.
What will the people of America or the people of the world receive for this colossal expenditure of funds? Will we make the world a safer place for our children and grandchildren? Will we secure a sustainable economy? Are we constructing a bridge to a better world or are we planting the seeds of constant sorrow?
There was a time when an economy could feed on the industrial demands of war but that time is long past. The military industrial machine is controlled by a select few who pad their pockets with outrageous profits but relatively little filters through the general economy. We build ever more efficient systems of destruction but we build little of lasting value. We are no longer an industrial economy and we no longer need the kinds of technology that weapons research yields.
The military industrial mindset is the last vestige of primitive thinking. The vast fortunes we invest trying to revive a dead and antiquated economic model are worse than wasteful; they destroy without rebuilding and they leave in their wake a trail of toxic poisons that will haunt all life on earth indefinitely.
The Global War on Terror must end because we cannot afford it. Leave aside all issues of morality, we can no longer afford to build our castles of wealth on the vast wastelands of destruction. We are confronted by the mandates of a new and smaller world, where the consequences of our actions are instantly felt in our own back yards.
We have allowed the corporate elite to lay down the terms of a global economy. We should not be surprised that labor was written out of the equation. With the same kind of shortsightedness and tunnel vision that pushed American automakers to build gluttonous machines that consume mass quantities of oil and gas as if the supply was infinite, corporations without borders have contracted labor to the cheapest source, without any regard for human dignity or human rights.
In their quest for ever-greater profit margins, they have forgotten that the very workers they are reducing to poverty form the heart and soul of a consumer economy. The same workers who purchase their gas guzzling vehicles, their unnecessary techno gadgets and toxic toys have struggled long and hard against the rising tide, hoping against hope that their corporate masters will come to their senses.
We work longer hours for lesser pay only to lose our savings, our homes, our property, our health care and retirement under a mountain of debt. When once we dreamed of prosperity and college educations, now we cling to subsistence by the thinnest thread.
The ideal leader will mobilize the working class and persuade the corporate world that we are marching over a cliff. With the catastrophic effects of global climate change looming before us, the impending collapse of consumer economies and the ravages of never ending war robbing our treasuries, it does not require genius to understand that there are more important concerns than short-term profit.
In short, the very real problems we are confronting on a global scale push radical terrorism to the negligible fringe. We have far greater demands on our resources than to fatten the profits of corrupt international corporations. We face far greater challenges than geo-political warfare can address.
The ideal leader would challenge the world to embrace a new direction. If we must live in a globalized world – as inevitably we must – then all nations must act together to achieve international justice, international labor rights and international technologies for clean energy. We require a strong, healthy and vibrant working force to defend the planet from the assault of the last century.
We require an organized labor force to construct solar arrays across the barren landscape of every desert on earth. In an age of global warming, the future belongs to solar. Until we have fully exploited solar and other clean energy sources, committing government resources to dirty energy should be abolished.
Nuclear energy should be banned on multiple grounds. Any energy source that leaves a deadly waste product with a half-life of several million years cannot be considered clean. It is a scourge on the planet that will inevitably poison our water supply. Moreover, as the Bush administration has driven home in its push for yet another unnecessary war with Iran, all nuclear technology can be transformed into weapons of mass destruction. As if that were not enough, nuclear facilities are natural targets for acts of war and terror.
The myth of ecologically friendly nuclear energy must be buried as yesterday’s fantasy. Nuclear facilities and nuclear weapons should be forbidden as a crime against the earth. All existing nuclear facilities and weapons should be phased out in a responsible manner.
We require teams of scientists and armies of skilled workers not for war but for the defense of our cities and communities from the inevitable chain of disasters that will unfold at an accelerated pace. Coastal communities will require ingenious planning, construction of barriers, mass evacuation and relocation.
We will need armies of trained and organized workers to rush to the scene of disasters. Schools of higher learning must answer the call for doctors, nurses, system analysts, engineers and rescue workers.
Planetary defense will require systems of transport, emergency preparedness, hospitals, clinics and innovative designs we have not yet conceived. We have neither the time nor the resources for war, weapons of war, ballistic missile defense, a renewed weapons race or any other endeavors that do not contribute to the health and well being of the inhabitants of earth.
The ideal leader would be someone who understands and can communicate that the needs of the planet are not in conflict with the needs of the nation.
We are all in this ship together and our ability to survive the coming storm will depend on our ability to cooperate for the greater good.
The ideal leader would be independent of party politics and corporate sponsorship.
The ideal leader for the twenty first century just might be…Albert Gore.