While political discourse has taken a dive in terms of civility and substance, actually something far more sinister and frightening is occurring. There are people who are actually attacking the basic structure of our government and our faith in it. A few are even talking openly about secession because they truly do not believe in our government and our way of life. (We have always had those people, but they were not politically powerful until now.) But most are being absolutely irresponsible, trying to foment—and gain from—a deeper anger.
In our past, most politicians for office publicly supported our system of government, and believed that we could stand together and solve severe problems. Candidates tried to inspire, or at least tried to be careful to attack the opponent or the platform, not our government itself. That has changed. The attacks are damaging an already fragile trust, and many Americans and the world have responded by becoming increasingly convinced that America’s best days are behind us. Confidence and faith in our ability to solve our problems are absolutely essential if we are to move forward, but we have irresponsible politicians (and some media and special interest groups) tearing at that faith and trust. Incredibly, a couple of them are actually running for President of the United States.
Here are some examples of how leaders in the past talked about our country and our problems. Franklin Delano Roosevelt said at his First Inaugural, “This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper…The only thing we have to fear is fear itself…which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” It was a buoying remark, a call to hope and patriotism, helping people through the dark days of the Depression. Remember George W. Bush’s talk to the nation after 9/11? “We have seen the state of our Union in the endurance of rescuers, working past exhaustion. We have seen the unfurling of flags, the lighting of candles, the giving of blood, the saying of prayers—in English, Hebrew, and Arabic. We have seen the decency of a loving and giving people …” On January 9, 1961, President-Elect John F. Kennedy said, “Today the eyes of all people are truly upon us—and our governments, in every branch, at every level, national, state, and local, must be as a city upon a hill—constructed and inhabited by men aware of their great trust and their great responsibilities.”
Are these current politicians and influential public figures “aware of their great trust and their great responsibilities?” One of New Hampshire’s members of Congress told the tea-party that the federal government was taking away all their individual freedoms. And two tea-party Presidential candidates have also made inflammatory remarks about our government. The Hill reported that Bachmann “likened America to the sinking Titanic,” and said, “We have gangster government.” Texas Governor Perry said, “When we came into the nation in 1845, we were a republic, we were a stand-alone nation…And one of the deals was, we can leave anytime we want. So we’re kind of thinking about that again.” This is not responsible leadership. These are outrageous comments, meant to denigrate our federal government. The interesting thing is that Michelle Bachmann has sought and received earmarks and Stimulus Act money from the “gangster government” (that would be US taxpayers) and Perry brags about all the jobs in Texas that actually came from United States Oil and United States defense dollars.
There are other reckless leaders. Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform, got almost every single Republican in Congress to sign his no-tax pledge even though he was clear about his intention to hurt our ability to administer this great nation. “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”
How can this great country recover and grow with this kind of attitude? How can we pay our bills and invest in technology, infrastructure, and medical research with this blind vision? How can we handle natural disasters like Katrina or attacks like 9/11 if we drown our government? How can we educate or defend ourselves, if we drown the major sources of government funding?
Harry Truman said, “No government is perfect.” We the people have to keep striving, but we need leaders who encourage progress, not defeat, and confidence, not despair.
Former Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter represented New Hampshire’s First District from 2007-2011, she is seeking a third term in the November, 2012 election. She wrote the proposal for and established a non-profit, social service agency, which continues to serve all ages. She taught politics and history and is a strong supporter of Medicare and Social Security.