In 1994, the Republican Party introduced its “Contract with America.” The document outlined the principles the party endorsed and was signed by all but two incumbent Republicans in the U.S. House, along with all of the GOP’s nonincumbent candidates for Congress.
I’m suggesting a variation — a “Contract with Common Sense” — that politicians of both major parties should be asked to endorse. I am not advocating the establishment of a “Common Sense Party” because history shows that ad hoc parties rarely produce meaningful results. But if our current representatives, and those hoping to unseat them, are averse to stating their agreement with the common sense principles spelled out below, we need to know that before the next election.
Even though common sense is not always “common” to all, it’s hard for me to imagine cogent arguments against these elements of a Contract with Common Sense:
1) First, I promise to acknowledge that merely categorizing people and dispensing uniform solutions to each individual in each category is insufficient to solve real problems.
Treating all individuals within a defined group of people (e.g., Democrats, Republicans, veterans, blacks, Native Americans, the elderly, etc., etc.) as if they are “the same” is a bankrupt approach that has consistently failed and will continue to fail.
For example, not all unsuccessful students are low-achieving for the same reasons. Some get little or no support from parents. Some have few, if any, successful role models. Some are in peer groups that actually denigrate academic success. Some must work to help support their families. Some have limited intellectual capabilities. Some suffer health problems, perhaps from exposure to lead or asbestos. And some, quite frankly, have no interest in school.
Steps such as increasing the number of minority teachers certainly supply some of what’s missing for some students (such as positive role modeling) but much more is needed. Hard work will be required to identify just what’s holding back each individual and to address those barriers as well.
Yes, it’s difficult, but it’s the only route to success.
2) Second, I promise to stop merely throwing more money at problems. Instead, I will seek to identify and implement “best practices” that have shown success at reducing or resolving problems.
Simply spending more money on the same old limited approaches to problems ignores the “law of diminishing returns.” In many cases the most benefit is obtained from the earliest application of a certain kind of effort and resources. Our politicians often seem to believe that if putting some effort into solving a problem had positive results, putting much more effort in will lead to even greater results — proportionate to the amount of new effort.
That is seldom the case. But increasing spending is certainly easier than creatively seeking more effective strategies.
An example of a best practice used successfully to catapult academic achievement among disadvantaged students at West Side High School in Newark, N.J., was reported in March on CBS News. The school had experienced attendance and bullying problems, both of which the principal diagnosed as resulting from children’s clothes not being properly laundered. He arranged for laundry facilities to be installed at the school for those children to use. The result? Attendance rose as embarrassment and bullying ridicule diminished.
Such successes need to be identified and exported — with tinkering to adapt them to idiosyncratic situations as needed.
3) Third, I promise to respect the results of sound research and ask the critical questions necessary to identify it.
This is important given the so-called “findings” reported continuously on social media with no basis in real scientific studies, to say nothing of friends and acquaintances who cite such information as “fact” even though no valid evidence accompanies it.
The scientific method, when properly applied, has led to countless societal benefits (advanced transportation systems, HVAC systems, pharmaceuticals and other medical breakthroughs, increased food production, satellite communications, etc.). The out-of-hand denial of scientific evidence related to global warming and the safety of measles vaccines, merely to promote short-term business profits, political gain or populist health beliefs, provides sad examples of how scientific research is no longer respected as an unbiased route to truth.
Scientific thinking acknowledges that the world is a complicated, “multivariate” place and that attributing outcomes to single, “univariate” causes is naïve and ineffective.
For example, a June 9 Star Tribune article indicated that government leaders have decided to alter Larpenteur Avenue in Ramsey County by reducing vehicle lanes and adding bicycle lanes — among other changes (“‘Road diets’ gaining traction in safety planning”). The so-called “evidence” justifying this change consists of data showing that pedestrian-automobile accidents have increased. The flawed assumption is that too many lanes is the cause of such accidents (those lanes have been there for many years).
The causes of these accidents are “multivariate.” Many factors come into play, such as drivers distracted by their mobile devices (which has nothing to do with the number of lanes), pedestrians and even bicyclists paying no attention because they are absorbed by their handheld devices, etc. News reports provide evidence as to the number of times the driver of an offending vehicle is reported to have been using a mobile device.
In addition, adding to driver frustration (such as has occurred on Portland and Park avenues in Minneapolis with the reduction of driving lanes — and, likely, will occur on Larpenteur Avenue) results in more accidents, too, due to impulsive, risky driving behavior.
Thorough analyses of problems is required to identify all the contributing variables and the ways they interact — so that changing one does not adversely affect others (i.e., cause “unintended consequences”).
4) Fourth, I promise to be consistent in the arguments I use for political purposes — so voters can know what to expect of me.
An Alabama lawmaker was interviewed recently about how he justifies forbidding abortions in cases of incest and rape. His reply was something to the effect of, “We don’t consider the fetus to be responsible for those types of situations.”
Yet, many of the people advancing that argument in relation to abortion endorse the maltreatment of infants and their separation from parents at the Southern U.S. border — as if those very young human beings are, somehow, responsible for the situation in which they find themselves.
Who can come up with a more blatant example of politically driven logical inconsistency than Mitch McConnell claiming it would be inappropriate to have Supreme Court hearings on Merrick Garland because a new president would be arriving within a year — while, more recently, asserting he will definitely have hearings on a candidate Donald Trump would forward — even if within the final months of Trump’s presidency?
Does it really make sense to allow almost any type of loan to be refinanced when interest rates go down but to prohibit student loans from being refinanced? This policy is inconsistent and illogical. An end to this politically motivated law must be enacted.
And, closer to home, Minneapolis government officials are culpable, too, as they hide from seeing the logical inconsistency of banning new drive-through retail (supposedly to curtail the small additional air pollution resulting from vehicles being in the drive-through a minute or two), while having severely slowed down the thousands of vehicles now creeping along newly restricted routes home because of overly generous bicycle lanes.
5) Fifth, I promise to endorse, and maintain or return to, common courtesy so politicians can again have civil discussions about problems and how to solve them — even though they may not agree.
Let’s get rid of name-calling. On almost every issue, the best solutions contain ingredients from each of the disagreeing parties — and name-calling thwarts constructive conversation. There have been eras when politicians from different parties ate lunch, golfed, laughed and worked together to find the best combinations of ideas. Those days will not return until the current political tactic of attracting voters by stoking fear and anger goes away. That’s a tough challenge because, as we saw (and continue to see), Trump has been successful using the “anger tactic” to attract and retain voters.
6) Sixth, I promise that in “the land of the free” I will do all I can to allow people to have as much freedom as social functioning allows.
When restrictions on what people can do are imposed, they must have a solid social rationale. The recent knee-jerk reversal in federal law prohibiting tourists from visiting Cuba clearly violates this principle. And, oddly, this change was made by a president whose party has always advocated “personal freedoms.”
In the June 16 Star Tribune, George Will (“Is the individual obsolete?”) and D.J. Tice (“The Conservative Sensibility: A mostly clarifying higher-altitude view”) rightly noted how difficult defining the contours of rights can be. Certainly, there are gray areas — practically and philosophically.
Yet visiting Cuba, when doing so results in no harm to others, certainly is not in a gray area. And Minneapolis government’s aggressive attempts to socially engineer people’s movements so that driving is so painful that everyone will, supposedly, stop doing it violates common sense and people’s right to the type of transportation that fits their physical and lifestyle needs.
We all have a limited time on Earth, and government officials’ power to dictate how we use it should be limited as much as possible. If it would take me 45 minutes each way to take public transportation to work, as opposed to a 10-minute drive each way, that results in a “loss” of my discretionary time of about 290 hours per year. I’d rather decide how to use those hours than have government decide.
7) Seventh, I promise to acknowledge that America has always been a country that helped developing or recovering countries improve their situations and that this tradition is in our best interest because it creates loyal allies.
The Marshall Plan was one of America’s greatest successes — helping war-torn nations, including defeated enemies, when Europe was in ruins and people were starving after World War II. More recently, the theme “Make America Great Again” has been taken to mean “make it great at the expense of others.”
This classic “zero-sum game” attitude is contrary to the spirit of the Marshall Plan and other efforts like it. Anyone who has visited Vietnam in the past few years quickly learns how, in the minds of the Vietnamese, our country has moved from war-time enemy to admired friend — largely because of our willingness to work with that country after the war.
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So there’s our contract. We need a return to common sense, and insisting that politicians of all parties commit to basic principles like these would be a good start. Effective government requires people who say what they really mean — and are willing to take responsibility for what they say. Courage will be required.
Doug R. Berdie, of Minneapolis, is a semiretired marketing executive and researcher.