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Take away the clutter, and you have true issues

I've always enjoyed election years.

The issues, the debates, even the little baby kissing seem to somehow recharge us as a nation.

But this year has been somewhat lackluster. Between charges of infidelity and talk about "family values," I have not been entirely clear on what the candidates think the issues are.

Besides, I am not sure that either Hillary Clinton (one child, two working parents) or I (one child, working mother, stay at home dad) are included in the current concept of "family."

No, family values is not the issue to galvanize a nation. I think this is because it lacks clarity _ it obviously means different things to different people, and seems to altogether exclude some of us _ and because it only hints at what ails us: We don't know who we are anymore.

It used to be so easy. For better or worse, we have been the Arch Enemy of Communism all my life.

Like every good child of my generation, I practiced air raid drills, sitting under my desk at school with my arms covering my head. A family in our neighborhood even had a bomb shelter. Now there's a national vision you can really sink your teeth into!

Before that, we were the Nation of Prosperity. I'm not talking about the Gordon Gecko "greed is good" brand of prosperity, either. First it was simply the basic chicken in every pot and then, later, we got into a barbecue grill in every suburban back yard so we could cook it.

Before that, I even remember something about being the American Melting Pot. Whether we got it right or not, at least the vision was laudable.

Now, I'm not sure what we are. And the ideas that come to mind aren't that appealing _ the Debtor Nation, the AIDS Generation, the Nation of Ethnic Division.

Maybe its time for our leaders to learn some lessons from business. After all, its our own government that is awarding the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in an effort to encourage a quality vision among this nation's businesses.

The Malcolm Baldrige Award requires that businesses who want to compete have very clear visions of what they exist to do _ and that every employee understand them. Many companies also find it useful to employ Quality Improvement Teams (built on William Demming's now famous Quality Circles), that get each employee actively involved in defining and promoting the vision.

Imagine our elected leaders facilitating giant Quality Improvement Teams (you could certainly call them town hall meetings) across the United States to ask all of us what we want to be when our nation grows up.

And now that everything from music to clothing has gone "retro," I can just imagine what people might say. I'm certain there are those who would think that a chicken in every pot is an incredible luxury and a pretty good vision, too.

And how about that melting pot idea? My guess is there are those who could stand behind the vision of ethnic unity.

Of course, the next step in business would be to execute a SWOT analysis. This is where we look at our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Then we would devise some strategies and tactics to get the job done and a communications plan to let everyone know what we are doing.

I know the process sounds simple, and in reality, it is. It's really just an exercise of clearing through the "clutter" _ all the unimportant stuff _ and getting to the root of the issue. After that, the rest is child's play.

It occurs to me that all this talk about "family values" and whether a candidate might or might not be constructed of a moral fiber sufficient to run the country is just a lot of clutter.

Frankly, my values are very clearly centered upon the family, and they came straight from my grandmother.

Things like "if it's worth doing, it's worth doing right" and "a person's priorities are pretty simple if you keep God first, your family second and yourself third" are records that play over and over in my mind. They are the yardsticks by which I operate.

But, beyond teaching them to my offspring, I do not feel the need to constantly get them out and massage them, nor do I feel that I have to foist them on others.

And, if truth be told, I have as much interest in whether a presidential candidate has committed adultery as whether his or her spouse can bake cookies and serve tea. I can't be alone in this opinion.

I am interested, however, in having a say in what we want to be as a nation. I used to be able to do that by exercising my vote. This year, neither of the major parties nor their candidates have captured my attention with meaningful discussion of the issue.

I bet most people would be willing to give their opinions, though. Maybe it's time someone asked.

Tammy A. Cancela is a resident of St. Petersburg.

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