When I was asked by The News to write a column regarding the current presidential campaign, my first thought was the line “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread” from Alexander Pope. But I have been blessed with long life and can remember every presidential campaign back to 1952, so perhaps I should risk being thought a fool by some to explain to those who read this that changes I have observed over the past 60 years cause me to believe their country is on an unsustainable and declining course.
The clearest indication of this unsustainable course is the exploding national debt which recently reached $16 trillion. It is growing between $3 and $4 billion per day and about $1 million every 50 seconds (see www.usdebtclock.org), and the interest on it costs about $1 billion per day.
Our balance of trade deficit runs between $30 and $40 billion every month and we are no closer to energy independence today than we were 40 years ago. National and state pension programs have trillions of dollars of unfunded liabilities. We don’t want to admit that a day of reckoning must come but dithering and denial cannot continue for the next 10, 20, 30 or 50 years.
This brings me to one of the biggest changes I’ve seen over the past several years: the unwillingness to face reality. During the 1930s Churchill warned the world about the Nazi menace but the world didn’t want to listen and called him a warmonger. We know how that turned out. Later, during the Cold War, even though some on the left favored unilateral disarmament, we did face reality because World War II had shown what defeat by ruthless totalitarian despotism would bring. That’s why we are free today. In political science the “golden rule of politics” says “He who has the gold makes the rules.” We continue to borrow money from China, Saudi Arabia and other foreign countries at great risk to our sovereignty and independence.
The same goes for foreign policy. Samuel Huntington was right: the story of the 21st century will be the story of the clash of civilizations. The threat we face is just as real and as dangerous as that of World War II and the Cold War. Totalitarianism based on religion is just as antithetical to liberty as that based on economics or nationalism and we need to recognize that and act accordingly. Rhetoric and appeasement have never worked, and weakness invites challenge and humiliation, as recent events have shown.
A second change is the degradation of political discourse in our country. Politics has become a blood sport whose motto is Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing. For some there is no lie too big to tell, no ditch too low to lie down in. The object is to win at whatever cost, regardless of integrity lost or pain and suffering inflicted.
The Golden Rule went out the window a long time ago. The time was when members of the other party in Congress really were “our friends on the other side of the aisle” with whom we had honest disagreements but with whom we socialized after work. Now they are enemies who not only must be defeated but also destroyed. They are buffoons or likely criminals who deserve no mercy, who conspire behind closed doors to push old ladies off cliffs in wheelchairs, and who are actually so backward and unenlightened to think those who wish to use contraceptives should buy them themselves. (Can you believe it?) This is the politics of extremism, division and polarization, not charity, magnanimity, and unity. It brings out the worst in us, not the best, and it is shameful.
A third major development is the abdication by the mass media of their role as objective watchdog over our political system. Facilitated by the advent of cable TV and the internet, the media have, instead, become cheerleaders and in some cases pimps for the left, and make no pretense of objectivity. This has led to the emergence of alternative media such as talk radio and the Fox News Channel as counterweights, the politics of extremism, division and polarization have climbed to ever new heights, ignorant drivel passes for informed analysis and more and more people tune out. We emphasize what divides us rather than what unites us. This is not good.
Four years ago I supported John McCain because I thought we needed a one-term president who would make necessary but sometimes painful and unpopular decisions and then step aside.
Instead, we chose an ignorant, immature and pathological narcissist whose favorite activities are incessant talking and blaming his problems on others, an ideologue who does not know that politics is the art of compromise, an amateur who views an invasion of our Consulate and the first assassination of an American ambassador since 1979 by terrorists as a “bump in the road” and who lied and required others to lie about it to conceal his administration’s incompetence, a divider who has polarized this country more than it has been since 1860 and who is too busy to meet with foreign leaders at the UN but has time to enjoy adulation on Letterman and The View.
Is this the best we can do? If it is, we are in sad shape.
We hear a lot today about polls. I’d like to go beyond the fawning media and celebrities and see a poll about what foreign leaders think of him, and of us. It would be interesting.
Column by Winfield Rose, professor of political science.