The President has done his thing; the Republican and Tea Party spokespersons have done theirs; now it’s time to get serious.
I’m referring, of course, to this week’s show-biz charade and the accompanying side shows, to wit: President Obama’s State of the Union address to Congress and the retorts/responses by Republican Congressman Paul Ryan and Republican/Tea Party Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. All three made their cases as best they could, the President to a large national television audience, the other two to decidedly fewer viewers.
In the end, none of them spoke with complete candor, instead doing what politicians do best (and some would say are supposed to do): sound sanguine even while delivering less than sanguine news. The country, according to all three, is going through a difficult period, but it is one that can (and will) be endured and overcome if each speaker’s plans and policies are adopted.
All three believe in the indomitable spirit of the American people, in the capacity for innovation and regeneration. All three stand firm in the view that nothing can defeat America so long as the people believe in that fact.
Those points are boiler-plate state of the union balderdash, being 90 percent political (as in “vote for me/my party if you want a better life”) and 10% reality (as in “things are really bad right now and it isn’t going to be easy to make them better”).
If an honest state of the union report had been provided by any of the three speakers earlier this week, it would have gone something like this:
The country is in serious decline. It may be impossible to ever regain the lofty position we held in the latter half of the last century, when our economy was second to none and we were an unassailable super power. At best, we might be in the kind of cycle from which we can recover marginally, thus sustaining our prominence and regaining some sense of collective prosperity, but the trend lines are not encouraging, and by the end of the century, if not much sooner, we will be a lot more like Great Britain or France are today.
If they were honest (with themselves first and with the American people thereafter), that sad prognosis is what all three would have to acknowledge. They would then go on to explain how we got to this point, and each would have his/her own reasons. Here are the ten real reasons (in no particular order, because they are all contributing causes):
o We are losing our middle class – The wealthy are getting ever wealthier, but their numbers (on a per capita basis) are not growing. The numbers of the poor (those living in poverty) are growing geometrically. The middle class is shrinking.
o We have extended our military forces too far and too deep – We have troops in all corners of the world, and in most instances, they are there for no productive reason. We spend far more on our military than we need to and are no more secure as a result.
o We don’t make anything anymore – We have moved from a manufacturing economy to a service economy. And the services are not self-sustaining (as the current plight of law firms evinces). Making things requires a large labor force. Providing service does not. Without a manufacturing base, the service industries first become discretionary and ultimately become irrelevant.
o We have allowed our largest corporations to gain control of our government – Corporations are not patriotic; they don’t care whether the country survives as a super power or, more significantly, whether the residents of the country prosper. They employ the cheapest labor available and produce the least costly goods (be they desirable or not). And they now “own” most of the elected politicians and control the message the people receive.
o We don’t seek knowledge for its own sake – It started with People magazine and its television cousins. We don’t like hard news anymore. It’s too difficult to deal with. In other words, we’ve become intellectually lazy, even to the point of eschewing reading for pleasure. Tweets represent as much knowledge as we want to consume. If it can’t be said in 120 words or less, we don’t have the time or mental energy for it.
o We aren’t just intellectually lazy; we’re lazy in everything – We are couch potatoes, with a remote in one hand and a beer in the other. Our entertainment must be either violent or infantile. We’re overweight and poorly nourished and content to be both, because it’s too hard to fight the system that feeds us junk food.
o We don’t offer hope to those who need it most – We don’t regard the unlucky as unlucky; we regard them as intractably lazy or inherently ignorant. If they wanted to better themselves, they would, so we aren’t going to help them. Thus are we creating a sub-culture of the disaffected and the uninvolved. They are the greatest long-term threat to our survival, and their numbers are growing.
o We are really two countries politically – United we stand; divided we fall. We’re divided. The coasts are blue; the vast middle is red. Precious little is purple. From another vantage, the cities (but not the suburbs) are blue; the rest of the country is red, bright red in most instances.
o We refuse to make meaningful sacrifices – We discovered the right to be free from taxation 30 or so years ago; we failed to discover the cost that comes with failing to pay for what we get. As a result, we have bankrupted our future. The day will come when we just can’t afford ourselves.
o The other side of the world controls our destiny – The Islamic world controls the oil we are addicted to; the Chinese control our currency; India provides much of our labor and the markets for our goods (such as they are). We no longer control them; they control us.
Reality can be distasteful, and with respect to the state of the union, it most assuredly is. Thus we get the pabulum and phony baloney we heard last week. Of course, it’s all a matter of perspective. Maybe everything will work out. After all, we are the greatest country in the world.