- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2006

The first of three excerpts.

If you are increasingly concerned, worried, or even angry about America’s future and what it may hold, I urge you to read on. The United States is in trouble, and for two major reasons. First, our federal government is currently unable to deal with the plethora of problems facing it. Second, Americans do not fully understand the nature or the depth of the dangers that confront us or the consequences of deferring action until it may be too late.

Iraq and the Global War on Terror are the most visible and immediate dangers. But even if Iraq magically turns into an oasis of stability and global terror miraculously fades away (and neither will), America still faces a spate of very tough issues and challenges that place its future safety, well-being, and security in great jeopardy.

Put simply, America’s national government is foundering. The botched responses to Hurricane Katrina and the Dubai Port World deal are illustrative. Correcting this condition extends beyond the responsibility of the executive and legislative branches and ultimately rests with the American public. If the public does not become engaged and demand action, then it will get the government it deserves. The same, however, cannot be said for future generations, who will inherit a broken republic if we do not act quickly and effectively.

The answer to the question of why the United States is in trouble is clear and stark and forms this book’s thesis. Government, and the people elected to populate it — no matter how noble or gifted — have been stymied in finding workable, effective, and — in a few crucial instances — even legal solutions to this array of tough issues. Our government is not working. It has become dysfunctional.

The indictment of the House of Representatives majority leader Tom DeLay, the criminal activities and plea-bargain of disgraced former super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and the investigation of possibly improper financial transactions of other members of Congress are symptomatic of the state of politics and government today.

At the same time, our principal adversaries, misnomered as terrorists, target the ?fault lines? of society, meaning our major political, psychological, social, and economic vulnerabilities that, if successfully attacked, will do great damage to the nation and to our citizens. Terror, ideas, and ideologies are these adversaries’ main weapons, not armies and navies, and therefore cannot be defeated by conventional military means alone.

The reasons why government is not working are also clear and stark.

The challenges, crises, problems, and issues that the United States faces at home and abroad have been accumulating in number, complexity, and difficulty of solution. None has an easy answer. Many are intractable. And some, beyond Iraq, can no longer be deferred without incurring unaffordable costs and/or risks in the future.

The war on terror; the rebuilding of Iraq; real or possible nuclear proliferation in North Korea, Iran, and elsewhere; the election of what we have declared to be a terrorist organization, Hamas, to govern Palestine; a resurgent Asia and resource rich Russia; energy and environment; global pandemics; immigration; a vanishing middle class; soaring debts and deficits and skyrocketing expenses for retirement plans and especially health care are a few of the many vexing issues that must be resolved.

The fiscal reality is that long-term government revenues will fund only part — perhaps only a small fraction — of the expectations and commitments promised by government and obligated by statute. Unless economic growth defies the laws of gravity or the nation has the political capacity to make truly tough and painful choices, the gap between obligations and resources will destroy the American dream and its promise.

Some of the dysfunctional performance of government stems from the Constitution and a system of divided government and checks and balances that purposely contain inherent contradictions to limit power among the three branches.

More of this dysfunctionality comes from the strength and growing influence of special-interest groups and lobbies that often represent political extremes and narrow constituencies that exist outside the mainstream of America.

To make matters worse, the excessively “adversarial?”nature of government has driven political discourse beyond the bounds of civility and reason, devolving into a nearly continuous cycle of attack campaigns and negative advertising that produce dangerous levels of hostility and acrimony.

And an increasingly large measure of dysfunctionality arises from a destructive alchemy catalyzed by ingredients combining the best and worst of America’s unique culture, its preference for crusade and the emergence of highly destructive partisanship.

The causes of this condition will not be corrected quickly. But the destructive aspects of culture, crusade, and partisanship can be remedied if we put our minds and our will to that task as a first step in restoring our government’s ability to function. Subsequent excerpts will explain how this can be done.

Harlan Ullman, who writes for The Washington Times, is the author of “America’s Promise Restored: Preventing Culture, Crusade and Partisanship from Wrecking Our Nation.”

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