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How America can stay the greatest nation

Saturday was the day of the Iowa straw poll and also the announcement by Gov. Rick Perry that he was throwing his hat in the ring.

The Republican establishment never thought Perry was going to make the run. They thought he could not raise the money. They were in favor of Romney, someone with whom they could do business and who hailed from the Michigan, Utah and Massachusetts. Romney would not be tainted as “another governor from Texas.”

Perry was quickly attacked by the Democratic Party and Michele Bachmann, despite her win. A press availability by DNC Chair Deborah Wasserman Shultz was not the main focus of the media, even though her photo made it to the front pages of newspapers and websites.

The problem with the media hype about the Perry announcement and Iowa straw poll is that we are not getting a realistic look at the problems faced in America. Debt reduction, spending habits are the mantra of the Republicans, and no new taxes are part of their pledge they must take to win. That is simply not enough.

The horse race in politics that all of us must endure is drawing attention away from real problems and real solutions. A soon-to-be-released book by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum, “That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind In The World It Invented and How We Can Come Back,” details where we ran into trouble and what we can do about it.

I have an advance of their book and, without stealing their thunder, I just wish and hope that the GOP candidates could have had a copy before they went on the stump. A few of the talk-show hosts I interview with daily get upset with criticism of America, saying that we are the greatest country, period.

We were the greatest – and we may be now, but without profound changes we will not stay that way.

Friedman and Mandelbaum outline what many of Americans have been saying for a while: We need to invest in America. This investment is not just money, but work, community and education.

Of their many views, I am most concerned about the education part of their message. It is a message missing from the GOP debate and discussion. You do not have to be a rocket scientist to know that without focusing on education we are in big trouble.

Recently, I spoke to educators and community leaders in a Jackson, Tenn. I was asked, “If there were one thing you could change or do in America, what would it be?” I answered that I would put in education and social stimulation for children who are zero to four, even before Head Start. People clapped in the audience, especially the teachers. Shortly after my speech, I interviewed Gov. Gary Johnson, a candidate for president. When I asked him about this, he got annoyed and said this was a result of my big-government views.

The problem with throwing around this kind of rhetoric is that it has little to the reality of our competition. China is making education a priority and, as Friedman and Mandelbaum point out, Singapore, a country with no natural resources, is out educating us. Singapore’s education is readying their young population to compete in a world where technology is king.

Often we hear that the parents need to do what schools can’t. However, what if a large part of our population is undereducated and can’t help their children develop the neuro-pathways necessary for entering school at age 5? Do we as a society just ignore that part of America? Can we afford to?

The answer is that it would be wonderful if parents stimulated children, read to them and helped them prepare for kindergarten. Unfortunately, because of their own educational deficits, many parents are not up to the task. If we care about the future of the U.S., then we must help children get ready for school. Friedman and Mandelbaum point out we need to continue to support our youngsters’ education by rewarding great teachers and providing the learning environment for this next generation.

America will not be great without a competitive workforce. We won’t have a competitive workforce without an educated populace. Now is the time to hear the plans from the candidates concerning how they will help our country achieve greatness and make our education system competitive with the rest of the world.