American Democracy and Some of Its Unique Discontents

TIME’s finest political minds joined mayors from around the country at this year's Chicago Ideas Week to talk about the state of the Union and the presidential race.

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Nathan Weber for TIME

David Gregory (left) and Rick Stengel during Chicago Ideas Week megatalk on democracy and the state of our union at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago on Monday, Oct. 8, 2012.

TIME closed out day one of Chicago Ideas Week by hosting “Democracy–State Of Our Union,” a 90-minute panel discussion about presidential bromances, the challenges of municipal government, and how much Mitt Romney will really benefit from that Denver presidential debate. Among the panelists: Richard Stengel, TIME’s managing editor and an array of TIME’s best political analysts including Michael Duffy, Mark Halperin and Nancy Gibbs, plus NBC’s David Gregory, New York magazine’s John Heilemann, and mayors from around the country including Chicago’s Rahm Emmanuel.

TIME’s Dan Macsai looks at 10 of the night’s best moments, in chronological order:

1. Richard Stengel kicks off the night by commending Chicago Ideas Week, and one of the original forums for great ideas: TIME magazine. “There is so much in media now where people don’t assume that you can think,” he says. But TIME founder Henry Luce “believed devoutly that when readers saw ideas in print, they could think and come to their own conclusions. That is a radical idea.”

2. David Gregory takes the stage to moderate a municipal government discussion with Houston mayor Annise Parker, Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter, Fontana, Calif., mayor Acquanetta Warren, and Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel. Seconds later, he’s deadpanning about U.S. democracy. “At least we have the presidential campaign, which will fix everything.”

3. How does national government differ from city government? One word: accountability. If people’s snow isn’t shoveled, Nutter explains, they’ll tell him about it personally. Or worse: “People complain when it’s raining too hard!”

4. David Gregory queries Mayor Emmanuel — fresh off the now-infamous Chicago teachers strike — about whether unions can be good partners in improving local schools. “I’m the wrong person to ask!” he retorts.

5. Mayor Warren gets heated discussing California’s recent wave of budget cuts: “[The state government] has made it its mission to take every dime from cities.”

6. One of the biggest challenges of being a mayor: getting residents to like you. “People aren’t happy with the status quo,” says Emmanuel, “and they aren’t too excited about change either.”

7. “Game Change” authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann take stage to discuss the 2012 election—and assert we’re in the middle of another, well, game change. In last Thursday’s debate, says Heilemann, Romney successfully “recast himself as the moderate, pragmatic Massachusetts governor we all thought he’d run as.”

8. But is it too late? Halperin seems to think so. Romney gaining enough ground in a month to win back 6 or 7 2008 blue states is “a really tall order,” he admits.

9. Still, the closeness of the race has renewed Heilemann’s enthusiasm for Thursday’s vice presidential debate, which he predicts will break records with 70-plus million viewers. “God knows I’m buying my popcorn for that thing!”

10. TIME editors Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, co-authors of The Presidents Club, cap the panel with a series of vignettes about presidential friendships: Truman and Eisenhower, Clinton and Bush 43, Johnson and Nixon, etc. Quoth Herbet Hoover (per Gibbs), “There’s no conversation so sweet as that of former political enemies.”

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Clarence Swinney
Clarence Swinney

We're fighting wars we cannot win without any exit strategy We are creating terrorists as we attempt to fight them with our drone planes - bombing unknown people in countries like Pakistan We are bleeding money through our balance-of-trade deficit, always in the red, with no end in sight Our trade deficit (difference between imports and exports) is now around $600 billion. This means we are sending $1.2 million out of the country every minute, on average This money comes back not to buy our products (as we don't make products they can't make themselves) but to buy our companies 2012 national budget deficit is over $1 trillion Accumulated national debt is over $16 trillion Total consumer debt in the U.S. is $11 trillion Student loan debt is over $867 billion 1 in every 5 homes loans is financially under water

We have no way to pay these debts!

Our priorities are all wrong. Our armies are all over the world - in Afghanistan, Korea, and Saudi Arabia, among other countries - yet our country is crumbling. Our infrastructure is in shambles, yet we spend our money building infrastructure in Afghanistan while our enemies are shooting at us.

We will never be able to pay back these debts as long as we continue to misuse our military and pursue outrageously misguided "free trade" policies which are proven to be disastrous failures.

Simply put, free trade allows unrestricted, uncontrolled access to our economy for goods made overseas at labor costs far below ours, sometimes as low as $2 per hour, tariff- and duty-free. We cannot compete with these labor costs, so we must outsource our manufacturing and watch our factories go bankrupt. This renders us uncompetitive and unproductive, sending the middle class jobs we once depended on overseas, devastating our economy.

We must demand better policies from our elected officials. Clearly the way we are living is unsustainable and it will only get worse if we do not rethink our failed trade policies, bring our troops home and start to become safe, sound and productive again.


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#4 is my favorite.  I believe Emmanuel would love to go off on the teacher's union...but he can't until after the election.  Democrat's need their support.