Five Ideas That Need to Die in This Country

BY KYLE SCHAFER, Guest Columnist

The United States is a great nation.  Many, including myself, would argue that the United States is the best country in the world. Sure, we have lost our first place standing in many areas. Education is down, life expectancy is down, and the dollar is not worth what it used to be, but as a whole, we’re still number one.

People still want to immigrate here because this is still the land of opportunity.  However, I believe that to progress with the times, and stay on top, the U.S. needs to let five popular ideas die off.

Corporate personhood

The idea of “corporate personhood” is fostered in the 1886 Supreme Court case, Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, which popularized the belief that the Fourteenth Amendment also applies to corporations, due to the interpretation of the word “people” in the amendment’s text.  This was furthered last year by the Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which protected corporate donations as speech, which is protected by the First Amendment.  Since money is a form of speech and speech is unlimited, corporations can spend unlimited amounts to run ads advocating for or against issues or political candidates.

If corporations are allowed to contribute unlimited amounts, they can effectively control the debate in a given issue.  This reduces the impact that actual people have on the political debate.  The argument against corporate personhood is pretty simple.  Corporations do not have souls, beating hearts, and working brains.  Simply put, corporations are not inherently evil.  They are just not people.  People are people.

Debatable or biased science

This has been an idea popularized in the last 20-30 years.  The idea that science can be debated or poses a bias became popular since scientific research came out that global warming, or climate change, is not only real, but caused by humans.  The vast majority of the scientific community conducts research, employing the scientific method, to prove their hypotheses.  Lately, however, politicians, corporations, and lobbyists have argued that somehow the “jury is still out” because of dissenting opinion.  This is despite the fact that much of the dissenting opinion is funded by corporations or lobbyists who are trying to find that climate change is either false or not caused by humans.

In reality, the scientific community does not try to push through an agenda. They search for knowledge.  They want to find the answer to a question, even if they find out that their hypothesis is wrong. Furthermore, other scientists will test previously proven hypotheses for accuracy, because it continues to further knowledge, and it is also fun to prove a fellow colleague wrong.

The idea of debatable or biased science needs to die, because we need to trust in the scientific method–you know, the same one we learned all through elementary, middle, and high school.  If we do not trust the scientific method, we may fall behind on important advances in technology, such as solar and wind power.

News and politics as entertainment

It is eight P.M.; turn on a 24-hour cable news network.  Some pundit is blathering on about his or her opinions that are usually on the far left or far right of the American political spectrum.  There is no room for the moderates here. The guests will likely be on the far left or the far right, and they argue. The next day, millions of people repeat the opinions of these pundits as if they were legitimate news. Some people even spend their entire evening watching the talking heads argue.

There are many problems with 24-hour news channels–foremost being that there is not 24 hours worth of news to fill.  But, people still tune in to be entertained.  I try to fill my evening TV with live sports and scripted comedy and drama, like every TV-watcher used to do.  But over the last 20 years, news has become more popular as a form of entertainment.  Did you go to a Super Bowl party last year?  How about an election party in 2008?  I did not. I hosted one!  I am guilty of this, too.

I remember the good old days, when turning on MSNBC would get you a drab news desk with two boring anchors telling you about blue chip stocks, in normal voices.  Today, you have shows like Mad Money and Fast Money, featuring bald, goateed lunatics screaming at you, telling you what to buy and sell, and giving their graphics and sound effects departments a workout.

This all cheapens the state of news coverage and financial coverage in this nation.  In the end, we watch more “news,” but somehow learn less about the actual issues, and sometimes miss the issues that are really important to us. And this is a situation in which life imitates art.  Think back to the last two debt-ceiling debates in Congress.  You knew they were going to come to a conclusion at the last minute, but how many of us crowded around Fox News or MSNBC with as baited breath as when Matthew Stafford throws a deep pass to Calvin Johnson?  News is information–not entertainment.

Gerrymandering

You may like it, or you may hate it.  It all depends on whether or not your party was in control of drawing the districts. The name came from the combination of 19th-century Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry, and a district he drew, which resembled the form of a salamander.  Every ten years, we have a census. From that census, states gain and lose seats in the House of Representatives. Usually, the state legislatures get to draw the districts.

If the Democrats run the state legislature, they can draw the districts so that they are conducive to gaining the maximum amount of seats in the U.S. House. By doing this, they may create three districts where Republicans would take 90 percent of the vote, making them “safe districts,” but then make seven districts where Democrats would take 55 percent of the vote.  So, in a state that was half-Republican, half-Democrat, the Democrats would have a 7-3 edge in seats.

This is dangerous for two reasons.  First, gerrymandering has a very high tendency to marginalize the voices of minority groups (this is especially popular in marginalizing African-Americans in the south).  Second, with so many safe districts, it reduces the rate of congressional turnover in elections.  In a time when Congress gets a 7 percent approval rating, turnover should be greater than the traditional three to five percent.

President “everyman”

This is another idea that we have for our politicians.  We want our politicians to be qualified, but we also want them to be salt-of-the-earth “regular Joes,” who understand our problems because they live them.  A common phrase is, “I’d like to have a beer with that guy.”  Sometimes, qualifications are even overlooked in favor of some candidate who happens to have a more likeable personality.

This is dangerous, because we don’t need your drinking buddy from the local watering hole to run the country.  Have you seen the country?  It is huge!  It has a lot of problems!  We need someone who isn’t just good or smart, but someone who is exceptional. Put the nerds in charge, and you might not want to go bowling with them, but they’ll fix health care, the infrastructure, and the national debt.

[mjopinion]