By J.F. McKenna
In April 2008 the presidential candidate declared that “This is your chance to say ‘Not this time.’ We have a choice….We can do what I did in Illinois, and in Washington, and bring both parties together to rein in their power so we can take our government back.
“We can be a party that says and does whatever it takes to win the next election. We can calculate and poll-test our positions and tell everyone exactly what they want to hear. Or we can be the party that doesn’t just focus on how to win but why we should….We can seek to regain not just an office, but the trust of the American people that their leaders in Washington will tell them the truth. That’s the choice in this election.”
That candidate won. Since then, spring has been a strictly meteorological event for America. If you don’t believe me, ask your spouse as he or she frowns at the weekly grocery receipts. Check with your co-worker—if you still have one, that is. Or get an arm’s length perspective from a worried digital “pen pal” living elsewhere on the globe. The land of tomorrow of which Emerson speaks looks more and more like a played-out territory:the once-sweet land of liberty that has allowed its distinctive flavor to fade.
Consider, for openers, the baseline rationale for establishing a national government in the first place—common security. Thirty years ago, President Ronald Reagan observed that this “most peaceful, least warlike nation in modern history” was not the cause of the world’s evils. “But for the sake of our freedom and that of others,” he added, “we cannot permit our reserve to be confused with lack of resolve.”
Today, lack of resolve casts America as a very minor character—most notably in the world stage-left, where Western Europe cautiously treads the boards opposite Mother Russia, a scene-stealer indulging her geo-political hot flashes. His own role as a former presidential rival notwithstanding, Mitt Romney regretfully reviews the situation this way: “It is hard to name even a single country that has more respect and admiration for America today than when President Obama took office, and now Russia is in Ukraine. Part of the failure, I submit, is due to…failure to act when action was possible, and needed. ”
The scorecard on America’s domestic agenda is not much of a keeper, either. As the Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms, the number of citizens not working is greater now than when the Bush family turned over the house keys in 2009. Methinks, as do others, reliance on government bureaucracy and rule-making is no substitute for free enterprise in its truest sense.
“After recessions, employment used to bounce back quickly, but not this time,” writes John Stossel, author of No They Can’t! Why Government Fails but Individuals Succeed. “What employer wants to hire when doing so requires fighting incomprehensible complexity and risking punishment for violating some obscure rule? We should be afraid to build a serious business. Today’s laws are so complex even the lawyers don’t understand them. When government is big, we become smaller. When we’re trapped in the web of their rules, we don’t innovate….”
Which is a convenient segue for a brief observation or two about contemporary political sense in America. For the most part, like G.K. Chesterton’s Christianity, American political sense in 2014 has not been tried and found wanting—it just hasn’t been tried. At least for the most part. And certainly not when it concerns The Beltway.
That was amplified for me when I recently read a comment by Bernard Lewis in his latest book, Notes on a Century: Reflections of a Middle East Historian. Reflecting on Americans’ proclivity toward easy answers, the great British-born scholar recalled this observation during his first visit to America: “I often thought of Adlai Stevenson’s remark that for the Americans every question must have an answer and every story a happy ending. I would add a gloss however: the answer must be a simple one, and the story must have a hero and a villain.”
You know the drill by now—April Fool!
As James Madison wrote in The Federalist Papers, if men were angels government would not be necessary. He never bothered to extensively address the issue of mortal fools in our contemporary Republic. For that I point you in the direction of any elementary schoolyard, where you can regularly hear Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.
Not that it is much consolation in the short term—but there is one constitutionally enshrined limit to federal-level fooling. Think of it as protecting ourselves from ourselves.
It’s called the 22nd Amendment.
J.F. McKenna, a longtime West Park resident, is a veteran business journalist and marketing-communications consultant. He is a former staff editor of such magazines as Industry Week and Northern Ohio Live. His online work also appears on the site Steinbeck Now. A native of Cleveland, he and his wife, Carol, now live in Pittsburgh with their dogs, Duchess Holly and Lord Max. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org .