(1) Over the last year it has become increasingly clear that Americans are frustrated with the way our government functions, or rather, fails to function. What is one thing that we could change about our political system or our government that would improve the situation?
In my judgment, reducing the pernicious influence of the excessive amount of money in political campaigns is the most important thing we can do to improve our political system. When I first ran for Congress in 1976, I raised and spent about $100,000 in my race to defeat an eight term incumbent Republican congressman. He also spent approximately $100,000 in that campaign. I was able to spend most of my time walking door to door and doing actual grass roots campaigning without being forced to spend all my time dialing for dollars. Today, a race against an incumbent member of Congress would cost between 30 to 50 times that amount, and campaigns for open seats for the House can even be more expensive. Senate races are even higher. Not only does the current system mean that face to face campaign activity is almost non-existent in this media driven world, but governing, once a person is elected, becomes nearly impossible because the race for funds for the next election will often begin the day after the initial election takes place.
Of course I have no magic answers to fix the problem; but the problem itself is a real impediment to a thriving viable democracy and perniciously makes it much more difficult to solve serious national issues. And let’s be honest about it; money given to political folks is usually given to influence policy, mostly to preserve or enhance economic benefits. So the ability for the political system to be agile enough to address the nation’s problems is negatively affected by the amount of money in the political system usually given for much more narrow purposes that the the broad national interest.
I also believe rationalizing our congressional redistricting process should be high on the list. The current system is not very democratic and is geared almost exclusively to preserving the status quo.
(2) During the health care debate, a great deal of attention was paid to our nation’s growing obesity rate and the growing rate of obesity-related diseases. Part of the problem lies with poor nutrition. What are some practical steps we can take as a nation to improve kids’ eating habits?
The nation’s nutritional problem and health ramifications, especially affecting kids, is becoming a major national issue. Certainly, the schools bear some responsibility in needing to serve food in the school meals programs which is nutritious, and lower in fat and sugar, and the Government and the Administration is taking a much more active interest in focusing on school meals programs.. By and large, until fairly recently, most of the nation’s school districts did not have this as a very high priority, in part because school meals programs have not received necessary resources. Recently, the Clinton Foundation and soft drink manufacturers worked together to reduce the amount of sugary drinks served in school vending machines, and that has been very helpful. More school districts and state boards of education are recognizing the need to encourage greater physical activity as well, the lack of which is an enormous part of the problem. Unbelievably, most states no longer require physical education as a key part of curriculum. Certainly, the food companies have responsibility in providing more nutritious options in the snack food arena, and also in what and how they advertise high sugar and high fat foods to children on television and in other media. These are complicated problems, caused by a multitude of factors, and will only be addressed with partnerships between the Government, schools, media, food companies and the medical and health communities working with the American public.
(3) Both Republicans and Democrats agree that there’s a great deal at stake in the 2010 midterm elections. Regardless of how things pan out, what are issues that Republicans and Democrats can work on in the next Congress?
Ironically, the majority of legislation that is passed by Congress is bipartisan; but anything major or controversial seems to hit the proverbial roadblock more often than not any more unless a crisis is imminent. Clearly, debt and deficit reduction are at the top of everyone’s list, but the solutions are still quite divisive. Perhaps the BPC’s debt reduction task force, as well as the Administration’s, can be helpful in smoothing the process here, but I am not overly optimistic that anything profound will pass before the 2012 Presidential election……I would like to see immigration issues go to the top of the list after the mid-term elections and find ways to seek resolution of some of the key issues, and believe that business and labor can work together once the mid-terms are behind us Immigration reform is an enormous issue and I believe there is room for compromise here……The Farm Bill expires in 2011, and that has historically been legislation worked on and resolved in a bipartisan way; it offers an opportunity to address many food and nutrition issues, domestically and internationally, as well…..Finally, I think hopefully we can focus on national security issues in a more bipartisan way once the mid-terms are over. I suspect there will be more attention to what happens in Afghanistan and I hope that the 2012 Presidential election process does not prevent a rational review of all of our national security issues.
(4) Despite the growing influence of social media and grassroots operations in campaigns in recent years, money still matters. A lot. How has the financing of campaigns changed since you first ran for office?
I answered this question initially, but I would add that while, as someone said, “money is the mother’s milk of politics”, I would counter that too much money in the political system paralyzes politics and freezes our ability to do much of anything important. By and large, political money is given to protect the status quo; and not to encourage and innovative ways to address the nation’s problems. I never to the best of my knowledge received a campaign contribution from someone whose highest priority was to reduce the debt, unless their solution did not impede their own economic interests. I certainly don’t have any miraculous answers on how to deal with it; most legislative and constitutional changes are nearly impossible to get agreement on, and the Supreme Court recently made the problem worse in its recent decision affecting corporate contributions. Ultimately, the American people will have to demand changes in the system, and key leaders in the business, labor, and political communities have to change the terms of the debate to make changes in the system.
(5) What films are on your “must see” list?
My son is a film producer, and any movie he is involved with is on my must see list. His firm, Spyglass Entertainment, produced “Dinner for Schmucks” and “Get Him to the Greek”. While neither will probably win an Academy Award, I can’t wait to see them….one of my favorite films of all time was “Animal House”. I also recommend “Wall Street 2” and “Toy Story 3”; I even teared up at the end.