Even though they come from different walks of life, it might not be a surprise that a former U.S. Senator from Nebraska and a former judge from New Hampshire who know each other actually have a similar view of the state of the nation.
In a talk about the federal budget, politics, and leadership, sponsored by the Concord Coalition at UNH School of Law, both Bob Kerrey and John Broderick struck similar chords about the lack of leadership in Washington, D.C., to tackle the difficult issues facing the nation including balancing the budget, paying down the debt, and tackling entitlements.
Kerrey, who is co-chairman of the organization, said much of the nation’s problems stem from the lack of action by the Congress to solve the problems. And, when the Congress does get involved, it is often going in the wrong direction.
“We keep giving standing ovations to the wrong things,” he said. “I’d require a simple rule – anything that produces a standing ovation should never be converted into law. It’s a bad idea.”
Kerrey said without action, the country would hand off a worse economic climate and federal budget deficit and debt to its children and grandchildren, due to runaway entitlements the country could not afford. If the course is not corrected, young people could eventually be paying more than 25 percent more in taxes while seeing 30 percent less in services.
Broderick said that even though he was a lifelong Democrat, the problems, in terms of leadership, are recognizable to him and most Americans. He said it wasn’t the same nation that he grew up in or his parents grew up in. Broderick pointed to the last 15 years and said, if you took a look at the senators then and compared them to the senators who are serving now, with some exceptions, “You probably wondered what happened.”
At the same time, during life as a trial lawyer and later a judge, Broderick had grown to trust the decisions and ability of ordinary people to learn and understand any problem. He said any problem the nation faces – from health care, to deficits and debt, to foreign policy – could be solved by randomly selecting 12 people who didn’t have agendas and were willing to compromise.
“The American people are smarter than the people who are currently serving them,” he said. “The voices on the margins of the left and the right will not solve the problems. If the American people are unhappy with what’s happened, inside the Congress or outside the Congress, it’s our fault.”
Both encouraged young people to vote, get involved in the process, and even run for office, if they so desired. They also stressed the need for engagement with friends and neighbors and both the positive and negative aspects of technology. Broderick said he was concerned about the fact that so many people were not leaving their computers long enough to know who their neighbors were while Kerrey embraced the fact that he could do a Google search on his smartphone, while being driven in a car, and instantly educate himself about any subject in the world.
Kerry recently decided not to run again in his home state of Nebraska, after being told he would need to raise and spend $25 million, much of it via super PACs, and even after doing that, wouldn’t necessarily be guaranteed a victory despite his previous years of service. He said he was surprised by $300,000 worth of ads that went up on the air while he was thinking about running again. The ads, reportedly created by Karl Rove, called him a carpetbagger. Kerrey said the Citizens United decision was making it difficult for people who were unknown to run because many anonymous sources could come together and quickly and easily derail campaigns.
“Those organizing principles – 'I believe X, Y, Z' – have become less and less important,” he said. “These people who are trying to win the majority or hold onto the majority – that’s their only objective. They aren’t looking at the party platform. It’s a big problem; it’s a dramatic change in politics in America.”
Broderick said there was hope when you look at the presidential campaign of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum who had been given no chance of winning due to a lack of money and was on the verge of the Republican nomination based on virtually nothing but his ideas.
"(The process) can still be fixed," he said. "He has captured people with his ideas. It's pretty impressive."