There is a constant refrain I hear at tea party events: “I fear my country, the America I love, is slipping away.” Is it possible that we are witnessing the incremental end of the American experiment? Is something formless and hollow replacing the land of the free and home of the brave?
I often hear people say the American dream is out of reach for their children: “They will not live as well as we have,” they worry. For many, there appears to be public disorder in the form of a grasping government and cultural fragmentation. Defining deviancy down — to use that well-worn Moynihan expression — seems to breed downward mobility and financial strain. This in turn seems to promote social dislocation and a working class transformed into an underclass.
There is little doubt that Americans have become more dependent on government to do the things they once embraced. Every discussion I’ve ever had about charity ends with the claim the government must do more to assist the poor. The idea that communities assist their own without government intervention is becoming a foreign concept.
And yet all is not lost despite the validity of some of these claims. Economic order can be restored if we have the will to do so. It will require belt tightening, a realistic assessment of public liabilities, and, most significantly, patience, since this is a problem that emerged over decades. Despite an unprecedented rate of illegitimacy, there are stable families in this land and these families need encouragement and support. This is a nation of families; to neglect them or deride their importance only serves to batter the building blocks of society. There are immigrants who want to be American. They want to share our values, speak our language, hold on to our Constitution, and admire our traditions. These are the people we should welcome to our shores. All is not lost.
But what we need is a vision, a vision that recognizes what we still have and what we must defend. My supply-side friends address the economic question with the lamentation that the market can solve what ails us. Surely markets are more effective in addressing issues than government engineers. But as I see it, our problem is mainly cultural. We need a spark to ignite the engines of productivity. People have to be excited about the future of their country. They have to be willing to defend and sacrifice because they know what is at stake if they don’t do so. As the Bible’s book of Proverbs indicates, “When there is no vision, a people perish.”
I would like to see the economic focus married to moral concerns. I would like to see the divisive issues of our day debated civilly so that divergent views can be heard. I would like to lower the temperature on public commentary so that the explosive takes a back seat to the calm and rational.
More than anything, we cannot rest on our laurels. We need a direction that looks back for guidance and looks forward for insight. No serious person ever underestimated American vitality, that energy stored in the body politic that rises to the occasion of national challenge.
Today, we have our challenges here and abroad. These challenges seem overwhelming. Can we prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons? Can we forestall the march of radical Islam? Can we keep accumulating debt without regard for the consequences? I don’t have the answers, but I do know there are answers that reside in the commonweal. These answers are to be found in our history, in our defense of liberty, and in our national resilience. We must turn the pages of our history with our eyes wide open. We must recognize the extent to which we have overcome difficulties in our past. After all, we as Americans tackle the difficult and welcome the impossible. All is not lost, and all will not be lost if we maintain faith in ourselves and a commitment to this great nation.