Faith of Our Fathers

We are not in an economic crisis, or a political crisis. We are in a crisis of faith. We have lost what has been handed down to us, generation after generation going all the way back to the founding, passing on the secret of America's uniqueness, its "exceptionalism," as if it were a holy relic of the Catholic Church lovingly preserved and cared for by parishioners for all time.

We -- all of us -- have failed to do the things necessary to maintain this faith. We have been careless and stupid in choosing our leaders. We have been lax in holding them accountable. We have not paid attention to what they were doing -- here or abroad -- and we have failed to demand that the government lift the veil of secrecy on too many enterprises. We have failed to hold ourselves accountable for our actions. We have failed to take responsibility for our own mistakes. We have abandoned self reliance, family and community values, respect for our political opponents, and the American idea that neighbor helping neighbor is far preferable to asking government to do it for us.

High ideals and standards to live up to, yes. And our forefathers were not always successful themselves in adhering to principle and acting for the greater good. But the difference between them and us is that they had faith that the wisdom and basic common decency of the American people would emerge and carry us through times of crisis relatively unscathed and still one nation. They counted on a rough unity of the people -- that we all had basically the same idea of what America was and where it should be going. How to get there was the basis of our political battles -- and believe me, they were as rough and tumble as any of the political donnybrooks we have had in recent memory.

It is not our politics that divides us. Nor does ideology tear us apart. These are but symptoms of the disease that afflicts us. Our problem is that we have lost faith in the idea that we can dream common dreams -- American dreams -- and give ourselves a common point of reference where we all agree what, at bottom, America is and where it should be going.

With this loss of faith has come an overpowering fear that prevents us from trusting others and ourselves. With no trust in one another -- in our intentions or good will -- we lose faith in our ability to solve our problems together and we get what we saw yesterday on Capitol Hill: a complete and utter failure of our leadership to deal with the crisis at hand, preferring to score cheap political points at the expense of the other rather than work together to avoid a possible calamity.

There was a point in the Cuban Missile Crisis (as dramatized in the movie Thirteen Days, based on Robert Kennedy's book of the same name) where the commander in chief of the Strategic Air Command, General Curtis LeMay, looks at President Kennedy and says, "You're in a helluva fix, Mr. President." Kennedy turned to the World War II hero and said, "In case you haven't noticed, you're in it with me."

Each side is pointing at the other and, in effect, telling them they are in one helluva fix and then explaining why one side or the other is the real culprit at fault in this mess and it is up to them to deal with the crisis. Obama "owns the shutdown," Republicans have a "gun to the head" of the American people, Democrats refuse to negotiate. And looming in the near future is a vote on whether to raise the debt ceiling with a similar partisan scenario shaping up, but with possible consequences far more dire than the potential economy-wrecking shutdown we're experiencing now.

None of it is true. The real issue is trust and the impossibility of achieving it because we have all lost faith in each other and ourselves. And the scary part is, no one in America knows how to fix what's broken and bring us back to sanity.