A thoughful letter from Earl Blumenauer, Congressman from Oregon.
Having just returned from a Congressional delegation visit to Finland, Estonia, and St. Petersburg, Russia, I am reminded again that as Americans, we set our sights too low.
We are the richest, most powerful nation on the planet. Most of the countries we compete against on the global stage send their children to be educated in America. The United States is headquarters to some of the world’s most profitable and innovative companies. It is also the birthplace of technology that has revolutionized our way of life over the last two centuries.
Yet, we behave as though we are weak, poor, and of limited vision.
Over the course of several days of discussions with a bipartisan group from Congress and international affairs experts from several countries, I was struck repeatedly by the many self-limiting decisions the United States has made.
Despite not having a national education system, students in Finland are performing at some of the highest rates in the world. The United States barely has state educational systems. For all of our concern about local control, American education is fragmented into over 10,000 independent, separately managed school boards, largely locally elected and funded. Because we don’t value education and we’re not strategic, we are leaving more and more of our children behind.
Americans express concern for families and our children. We’re, however, the only developed country that doesn’t have access to affordable child care and does not guarantee parents the right and privilege to welcome a new child with paternal leave.
The issue of health care continues to be a political battlefield. Even as a few Republican states that previously refused to expand coverage under the Affordable Care Act have reversed course, they have done so by restricting access to these new benefits through burdensome requirements for poor people to gain new coverage.
Despite our success in improving and expanding care, we are still falling short. We are secure, if not smug, in our pride of having one of the finest health care systems in the world. Yet countries with universal and single-payer health care systems are paying less and helping people live longer, stay healthier, and get well faster. Meanwhile, the U.S. health care system is opaque and makes expensive mistakes, where bad luck and illness can result in devastating health and financial consequences.
Our rich, powerful country is investing in unnecessary, expensive weapons of mass destruction that do nothing to enhance our security and everything to destabilize a world order. All the while, the decision to break the Iran nuclear agreement perplexes our allies and undermines efforts at future nuclear weapons control. On the eve of a potential high-level summit with North Korea, is there hope to have meaningful restraint on the part of the North Koreans, which has nuclear weapons, if we break our treaty that is working with the Iranians?
The United States, for all our power and wealth, does not have unlimited resources. And under the control of Donald Trump and the Republicans, our international prestige and good will is in free fall. They are not making America great. America is dangerously standing alone in a world that is increasingly interdependent and our relative wealth and power is in decline.
But it’s clear that we still have the chance to reverse course. We have vast resources. We have opportunities to learn from our mistakes and from the success of others to make a huge difference for ourselves and people around the world.
Most important, we have an opportunity to harness the unprecedented level of energy from folks across the country who are concerned with where our country is going. People like you can and will make the difference at the ballot box to save America.