Atlantic Unbound

NPR Commentary -- January 2, 1995
by James Fallows

New Year's Resolutions . . . for America



People have New Year's Resolutions. Why not countries? Here, in two installments, are ten simple ways to improve America this year.

Number one: take money out of politics. The law should require commercial TV and radio stations, which after all get licenses to make money from the federal government, to offer free advertising time to all plausible candidates during campaigns. The candidates would not be allowed to buy other air time beyond what they get for free. This would not only reduce the aggravation level for viewers during elections but would also eliminate by far the greatest pressure for political fund-raising, which is the cost of TV ads. This in turn would make politics less corrupt and the life of politicians less demeaning, which in its turn would perhaps attract a better class of candidate.

Number two: savings sports from itself. For football, no artificial turf. For baseball, should it ever resume, no designated hitter and no antitrust exemption. And for men's professional tennis, no second serve. Sampras, Becker, and the like should be allowed one serve only, which would save the game from impending doom as an ace-blasting contest. Also, instead of adding a new sport to the Olympics every four years, we should begin subtracting one sport per Olympiad over the next few decades, or at least until rhythmic gymnastics is gone.

Number three: common sense budget reforms. Most of the benefit of the tax deduction for mortgage interest goes to the richest Americans, with the most expensive houses, and the biggest deductible home-equity loans. This makes no sense. Instead the deduction should be limited to cover an average-priced house in America - and the tens of billions of dollars saved should be used to set up a national college financing fund. Students would borrow from the fund while they are in college and would agree to repay a set percentage of their earnings through the rest of their working lives. Those who benefit most from education would pay most -- but only after they've benefited, and everybody rich and poor would have a fairer shot at school.

Number four: Old Testament vengeance for political hypocrisy. This punishment would apply to any politician who endorses term limits while running for re-election, who calls for a balanced budget amendment while opposing significant tax increases or budget cuts, or who preaches about family values while having any blemish whatsoever in his or her own life. All violators would be turned into pillars of salt.

That's just a start. Tomorrow, reforms Five through Ten.

Step five on my plan for a perfect America is real constitutional reform. Instead of nickle-and-diming the constitution with budget amendments, let's have an American King, who could take the pressure of personifying the country's values off the back of our flawed, human presidents. The post should rotate between figures from sports and Hollywood, with King Clint the First, Clint Eastwood, as our initial monarch. On King Clint's demise we would choose among his heirs apparent, namely Michael Jordan, Joe Montana, and Martina Navratilova, by calls to a 1-900 line. And while we're changing the constitution, let's get rid of the District of Columbia and give the land back to Maryland, where it came from. That way the million or so people who live on that land, including me, could vote for Congressmen and Senators like all the rest of you.

Six: transportation reforms. We should outlaw normal cellular phones in cars. If you want to talk or make deals while driving, you'll have to buy one of the hands-free models that still gives you a chance of steering the car. For air travel, the FAA should limit carry-on baggage to one small item the size of a purse or laptop computer. Executives lumbering on board with all their worldly possessions have given American air travel the comfort and dignity of a ride on an Indonesian long-distince bus.

Seven: beautifying America. Mandatory head-shaves for any man who practices the comb-over. Free public distribution of the Wonderbra. And uniforms for American school children, like children through the rest of the world, to avoid expensive clothes competition. Also for the kids, we need a consumer-warning inside baseball caps sold to teenagers who are sure to wear them backwards. The notice would say: Hey, if you think pictures of your parents' bellbottoms from the 1960s look stupid, wait till you see how backwards hats look ten years from now.

Number eight: a change in the first amendment, to ban whining in news reports. Newscasters whose stories encourage Americans to feel sorry for themselves should be reassigned immediately to Somalia or Tibet. For example: the next report on rising gasoline prices saying piteously that Americans will be "paying more at the pump" must add that people pay three times as much at pumps any place else on earth.

Nine: discouraging excess litigation through the "loser pays" system. If you sue somebody and you lose, you pay your legal costs -- and his too, just as you would in England. Newt Gingrich has included this clause, although for some reason not the others on my list, in his Contract With America.

And the number ten reform for America: no more noisy leafblowers.

This can be the greatest country on Earth, if we have the courage to change.



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Copyright © 1995, by James Fallows. All Rights Reserved.