- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 16, 2006

For about 35 years, America has dreamt. From the end of the Vietnam War to September 11, 2001, it was a spectacular reverie. It included a triumphal and mostly nonviolent end to the Cold War, our rise to sole possession of the military superpower cup, and the continuation of our hegemony over the world economy. It was the realization of the mythic “American dream” so long celebrated by our writers, idealists and political scientists. It was a fantastic if premature waking dream that unified the values of our forbears in Europe with the spiritual and secular pragmatism of our own earlier pioneer culture. It seemed to have the sturdy architecture of British legal principle, the solid foundations of the intellectual fruits of the post-medieval Renaissance, and the constant, if not infinite, nurture of science and technological vention.

The world, however, is always in changing itself, and it has little respect for predictable outcomes.

It has no time, as well, for pretense.

For five years now, the United States has begun to adjust to a world it had not really seen coming. Yes, some who understood the emerging computer and Internet technologies did predict dramatic change, but no one truly knew that this would change the world as the Industrial Revolution did about 200 years before. Yes, a few political scientists who did the math speculated that, at some future date, China and India would become the major economies of the world, but until India abandoned socialism and China embraced capitalism (minus representative democracy), it was only speculation. Yes, a few medical scientists knew that new diseases would likely attack our species, and that a horrific influenza pandemic would come again, but no one knew what, how and when.

A few statesmen, including the young Winston Churchill, saw danger from Islamic fanaticism, but since the Dark Ages when Islamic culture flowered and was more advanced than Europe, and the Ottoman Empire declined, Islam was not taken seriously in the West and in America where few Moslems lived. American enemies in the past: British imperialists; Mediterranean pirates; Spanish colonialists; the Central Powers of Europe; the Nazis of Germany; Japan and their Axis allies; the Soviet Union and international communism came and went. American power dispatched them all, even when they descended into the barbarism of the Holocaust, Japanese militarism and Soviet oppression.

Now we face a new and perhaps more ominous enemy. We also have allowed many of our domestic institutions to be weakened by neglect, bad planning, distraction and procrastination.

Our affluent population is dramatically changing its demographic structure. Our medical science enables Americans to live longer than they did only a century before, even half a century before. We now ask most Americans to retire before they need to, and we have not prepared for how they will live after they retire.

Our pension funds — the Social Security, private, corporate and public-employee plans — are collapsing under the weight of unanticipated participants and funding capacity. We delay dealing with this when we are most able. Our medical technology has produced medicines, procedures and equipment that can seemingly meet all threats and challenges, but we have increasingly diminished ways to provide and distribute this care. Our education system has been compromised by political correctness, lack of discipline, institutional bickering and inefficiencies.

We have become preoccupied, as a device of our national procrastination, with two aspects of public life which do not solve problems.

The first is the incessant distraction of social issues which cannot be resolved by government. Legislation cannot satisfy questions of religion, morality and spiritual value, no matter how much demogogues try to inject it into the discourse of public policy. Politicians often cave into this because it gives them political cover for the fact that they are not resolving the issues and problems government was designed to deal with.

A second preoccupation is with the details and minutiae of the electoral process. The recent incessant debate about how elections are paid for, by whom, and how much has gone beyond the valid concern of the integrity of the elections in America. They are now just another device for attempting to gain political advantage, and to turn public attention away from more critical issues. Like legislators who raise their own pay while calling for the rest of us to tighten our belts, it is political vanity out of control.

In 1860, the nation faced a great crisis, and it elected Abraham Lincoln. In 1932 and 1940, it faced equally great crises of economic depression and war. It elected and re-elected Franklin Roosevelt.

In 2008, crises now growing and accumulating will loom before the voters of America. These crises are not only military, but they are also the work of our own making and continued procrastination. Both Democrats and Republicans abet this political daydreaming.

It’s time to wake up from this reverie. It’s past time to wake up.

Barry Casselman writes about national politics for Preludium News Service.

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