|Former congressman J.C. Watts said the current Congress needs to exercise common sense in dealing with America's most pressing issues during the President's Speaker Series lecture Wednesday morning in the Killinger Auditorium.|
J.C. Watts, a former Republican congressman who has become known for thinking for himself, passionately discussed America’s “ideology of gracious decay” and how the country needs to find “new ways of dealing with old problems” Wednesday (Oct. 8) morning during his President’s Speaker Series lecture.
“I hope for about 30 minutes here, we can take off our Republican and our Democrat and our liberal and our conservative and our independent caps, and I want to challenge you to think about where we are today and where we were as a nation 40 years ago,” Watts said.
He discussed growing up under the World War II generation, dubbed “the greatest generation” in Tom Brokaw’s book with that title, and how they coined and lived by the phrase “Just do it” (“long before Nike came along”).
“Just do it. Just do well by your family. Just serve the community. Just serve the nation. Just go to war,” he said. “Go and fight for the freedoms that we hold dear. That’s what they did. Because of them, we inherited from them the safest, freest, healthiest, most prosperous nation in all the world.”
Those values and principles Americans were handed, Watts said, have been “squandered” over the past 35-40 years, leading the country to adopt what he calls an “ideology of gracious decay.”
“Today we have bought into an ideology that says if it feels good, do it; if you don’t want to do it, don’t. If you can’t handle it, drink it or drug it, and somehow or another we’ll find a government program that will take care of it,” he said.
“We’ve gotten to a point in America today that I am quite concerned. I keep telling myself and I keep trying to talk to myself to say that Washington isn’t so broken that we can’t fix it,” Watts said. “I don’t know if you can see through that or not (holds fingers closely together, almost touching) but that’s about how close I am to concluding that Washington is so broken that we will never be able to fix it.”
In the midst of “shocking” news reports and things that “just baffle all of us,” the greatest moral failure of America was defending “a president living under a certain set of rules, a different set of rules, when it came to telling the truth,” Watts said.
“I think the greatest damage to America was the fact that the bar was lowered,” he said.
Also among the criticisms of the government, the former eight-year Oklahoma representative and professional football player said, was the partisanship in congress and compared it to the teams on which he played (with the University of Oklahoma and the Canadian Football League).
“Everybody knew what they’re responsibility was. They never said, ‘J.C. look, I’m a Republican; I can’t run that play.’ ‘I’m a Democrat; I can’t run that play,’” he said. “I had the great fortune of being in that huddle with Jews, Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics. I had the great fortune of being the quarterback for white guys and black guys and a couple of Hispanic guys and a Native American guy.”
His time in the athletic arena ingrained the notion of “team” in him, but he learned that politics was just “a passing game,” he said, adding that while egos were big on the football field, they were much bigger in the political arena.
Watts said government officials would do good to use his parents’ approach to life in politics: treat people the way you want to be treated, work hard and sacrifice, and don’t put all of your faith in the government or the president, who’s human and flawed.
“My political philosophy was not born out of being a member of a political party. My political philosophy was born out of being raised by Buddy and Helen Watts,” he said, adding that his mother made it through the 10th grade while his dad made it “two days in the seventh grade.”
Using the Buddy Watts approach, the government should utilize more common sense, just as the World War II generation did.
“If we’re going to solve America’s problems, we’re going to have to use common sense, and we’re going to have to get back to basics, especially in the big issues,” he said. “I think with the big issues, we’ve got to look at new models; we’ve to look at new ways of doing things.
“We can’t be afraid of change in terms of education and change in terms of poverty and in terms of economic security and retirement security,” he said. “If we’re not willing to look at things differently and use newer models or different models or the best practices, we’ll do the same old thing, the same old way, and we’ll get the same old results.”
Watts warned of the “looming crises” involving energy, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, comparing those to the financial crisis, including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which he said he alerted Congress about six years ago.
“We keep kicking the can down the road and kick it down the road, and we never do anything about it,” he said. “You have men and women in Washington who don’t have the guts to take on the major issues of this country. They are good at telling us what we want to hear, not what we need to hear.”
He also addressed some of the major issues in the country and what the government should do about them, including poverty (“we have a moral obligation to assist those who cannot assist themselves”), education (which is “failing, especially our poor kids;” Watts is pro-vouchers) and healthcare.
“We don’t have a healthcare system in America. We have a ‘sickcare’ system. We have a system designed around sickness, not around wellness,” he said. “In Great Britain, they pay doctors bonuses for making people healthy; in America we pay doctors for keeping people sick. And it’s not disrespectful to doctors, but everything is built around J.C. being sick.”
In terms of economic security, Watts said Americans pay too much in taxes, with the middle class paying anywhere from 50-to-58 cents for every dollar earned in some government tax element. He recommended creating more taxpayers by starting more businesses that produce more jobs.
Despite what people around the world might think about the U.S., Watts said the world doesn’t work without America, which gives “more money to any other nation around the world, bar none.
“This place that you and I call home and the rest of the world calls America is a pretty special place, and if we’re to keep it like that, if we are to sustain the greatness of America, we’ve got to look at new ways of dealing with old problems,” he said.
“I hope that we all, for some period of time, take off our political caps and think through where we are as a nation, and the past six months have given us a pretty good idea of the looming crises we’ve got now, because it’s not just energy, it’s not just the financial crisis, it’s Social Security, it’s Medicare, it’s Medicaid, it’s two or three issues that go on and on,” he said.
“If we deal with them in a reactionary way, we all lose.”
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