Fairness at home, wisdom abroad, oversight in D.C.

Published 8:48 am Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The single greatest challenge facing our country in the new year and the years ahead is asserting the kind of affirmative and creative leadership necessary to regain the confidence of the American people in our system of governance, our nation’s leaders and our standing in the world.

To do so, our formula must contain three themes that continue to drive my policy decisions and instruct efforts I have chosen to lead. We need to reshape national security policy, restore a system of economic fairness for all Americans, and ensure honesty and openness in government. I am proud to say that over my past two years in the U.S. Senate, we have made great strides in all of these areas. I will continue to aggressively do so in 2009 and beyond.

On the foreign policy front, our nation’s political leadership must match the quality of our military. That means that our foreign policy posture and decisions about how and when to use our armed forces must change. With a new administration and a new House and Senate, we have an immediate opportunity and responsibility to place great emphasis on robust regional diplomacy. Only then can we begin to withdraw our forces from Iraq, restore a measure of stability in that historically volatile region, improve our standing in the international community and more properly address the wide range of foreign policy issues that have been dangerously ignored over the past five years.

The American people are looking for a government that believes in principles of fundamental fairness—especially at a time when more and more Americans feel anxiety about their economic future. They need confidence that their tax dollars are being properly spent, which is why I went to great lengths to ensure that the economic recovery plan passed in October offered meaningful provisions to limit executive compensation and give taxpayers a chance to share in any gains achieved. The idea of fairness is also why I dedicated the last two years to passing an historic, comprehensive post-9/11 GI Bill that properly rewards those who answered the call of duty to our country, often at great sacrifice. And the prism of fairness dictates every policy decision that my staff and I make.

Americans are also yearning for a government that inspires confidence and achieves results. They deserve oversight and accountability on a wide host of issues, including the exorbitant cost of this war, which is why I worked to establish a Commission on Wartime Contracting to assess the waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement of wartime contracts and ensure that those responsible are held accountable. We need this same kind of scrutiny and oversight at every level of our government infrastructure.

Lastly, leaders need to start talking frankly about — and tackling — issues that are not necessarily the most politically popular. Over the past 20 months, I have begun a serious dialogue about the skyrocketing incarceration rate in this country—a subject that does not get a lot of attention from politicians, but should. There is something wrong with our criminal justice system when we have five percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s reported prison population. Sharp distinctions need to be made between offenders of violent crimes and those incarcerated for drug abuse and mental illness. This is truly a national crisis that deserves dedicated attention and viable solutions.

The American people want better leadership, and they want new approaches. They want to believe in their government again. That is what we owe them in 2009 and beyond.