The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

February 5, 2010

DAVID A. KNEPPER | Transforming America rests with the voters


“All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree.”

– James Madison

It’s time to end the divisiveness that has swept our country – where our citizens are becoming skeptical that its leaders know how to fix the nation’s problems.

Perhaps part of the answer lies within us. That is, in our failure to realize that many of the problems we face today cannot be solved by our political leaders alone, especially when there is an unwillingness by both major parties to embrace bipartisanship.

Engagement by an enlightened and informed citizenship could certainly make the difference, were it not for the fact that many Americans have turned in their library cards for BlackBerrys.

Will Rogers quipped that all he knew is what he read in the newspaper. Were he alive today, he would no doubt say that all he knows is what he hears on CNN or the “Bill O’Reilly” show!

Sadly, we are becoming a nation of “nonreaders,” were it not for text messaging that employs acronym jargon – IMHO.

John W. Whitehead, founder and president of the Rutherford Institute, warns that “the bottom line is simply this: Americans should beware of letting others – whether they be television news hosts, political commentators or media corporations – do their thinking for them.

“If not, then I fear for the future of this country.”

Each day there seems to be a deliberate attempt by some, not all – and not necessarily our politicians – to fuel the fires of dissension and cynicism.

The bickering and bellowing that has spilled from the kitchen table and into our streets has not strengthened, nor been healthy, for our democracy.

To those who would want us to believe that America’s best days lay behind us and that our future seems bleak, I say, phooey!

Rather than find fault or play the blame game, let's unite.

Yes, we can, and we need to shove cynicism and negativity over a cliff.

There is no challenge too great nor any task too insurmountable that cannot be overcome to reignite or reinvigorate the American spirit.

“Quitting” is a word that is not in Americans’ lexicon. Americans have never given up. Nor have they ever tossed in the towel when faced with adversity and seemingly insurmountable odds that imperil their future.

Their spirit will never be quenched or dampened by the naysayers and cynics who we have respectfully listened to for all too long.

But, know this: It’s time to let our elected leaders understand that we the voters are not so inclined, nor will we be counted on, to vote along party lines.

Today’s voters demand more straight talk and honesty from those who aspire to political office.

This was what the voters in Massachusetts saw and voted for when they chose state Sen. Scott Brown, a Republican, to fill the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by the late Ted Kennedy.

Like those brave Minutemen at Concord who “fired the shot heard around the world” against the British well over two centuries ago, in 1774, so, too, did the voters of Massachusetts “fire” their own salvo heard loud and clear in Washington and across this nation.

The voters were smart enough to recognize that Brown had been successful in articulating a core set of values that resonated with the voters.

Whether it’s an election at the local, state or national levels, voters who do not expect greater accountability from a candidate in conducting the people’s business for a change, deserve a kick in the pants.

One state legislator told me recently that today’s voters expect that their elected officials are not only independent and hardworking, but, more importantly, have the courage to speak up and not duck or run away from the issues that are significantly important to the voters back home.

Where, I wonder, are the so-called “lions” in our legislatures today – a new breed of statesmen, cut from the same cloth as, say, a Robert Dole, Ted Kennedy, Barry Goldwater or Everett Dirksen?

It was more important for these men to remain steadfastly committed to their convictions for what they believed was best for the nation and its people.

When their supporters abandoned them, and their critics sought to discredit them, they remained steadfastly committed to their principles, which far outweighed their quest to establish their own political dynasties.

In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama reminded elected lawmakers that, “We can do what’s necessary to keep our poll numbers high and get through the next election, instead of doing what’s best for the next generation.

“But I also know this: If people had made that decision 50 years ago or 100 years ago or 200 years ago, we wouldn’t be here tonight.

“The only reason we are is because generations of Americans were unafraid to do what was hard, to do what was needed even when success was uncertain, to do what it took to keep the dream of this nation alive for their children and grandchildren.”

No doubt, the answer in making this nation strong again may be found at the ballot box.

Hope to see you there.

David A. Knepper is president of Allegheny Development Group LLC and is currently the executive director of the Forest Hills Regional Alliance. He holds a doctorate in educational administration from Penn State. His column appears the first Sunday of each month.