Where do we go from here?

Published: August 1, 2011

By Jim Lichtman
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Americans are angry like never before.

These are two of the messages that appeared during yesterday’s Meet the Press on NBC:

“I think we now have elected officials that are afraid of their support bases, rather than wanting to represent them. Why does it seem that compromise is a dirty word, these days?”

“I have never been less confident about the future.”

We are not just dealing with a painfully slow economic recovery, but an unprecedented lack of trust in Washington leadership. There’s enough blame to go around regarding the details of proposals and counter-proposals from both sides, as well as Tea Party members. However, former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw provided a big picture of where we are and how we got there.

“… there is a political default that is already in place… I think everyone has to stand back and realize that we are where we are because we’re all in. This is not just a Democratic problem or a Republican problem, the whole country was in on this…

“Now, we’re in a huge spending binge in this country. Everybody was along for the ride for a long, long time. President Bush started a war on a credit card. It’s been going on for 10 years. We have prescription drug benefits for the seniors that are not paid for.

“SEC wasn’t looking at what was happening on Wall Street. Democrats were pushing house ownership for people who didn’t really deserve and shouldn’t be buying houses. At the same time, they were not willing to step up on reforming Medicare and on Medicaid and Social Security. The country itself, they were spending money like crazy, and they were–they’d gotten used to having Washington take care of whatever they needed.

“So now we’re at a stage where I think the country has to come together… and say, ‘This is a critical passage.’ Democrats are going to have to step up on social entitlements and reforming them. I talked to Governor Kasich of Ohio yesterday, Republican, who’s got his own tough, tough passage out in Ohio. He was here in ’97 as the chair of the House Budget Committee. He said we ought to be talking about reform and not just slashing spending. We ought to be reorganizing the government and these programs because, as we mismanaged the expansion of government, we can’t mismanage now the cutting of government.”

So where do we go from here?

Civic duty carries with it the responsibility to act in a way that represents the greatest good for all stakeholders. Those citizens with the passion and commitment to run and reach public office have a responsibility certainly to the constituency that elected them. They represent the goals and desires of that constituency. However, they also carry a larger responsibility to the country itself, and at critical times, must make some hard choices that may in fact, directly conflict with the ideas and ideals of those who supported them at home.

“…democracy means much more than popular government and majority rule,” John Kennedy wrote in Profiles in Courage. “The true democracy… will not simply elect men [and women] who will represent their views ably and faithfully, but also elect men [and women] who will exercise their conscientious judgment – faith that the people will not condemn those whose devotion to principle leads them to unpopular courses, but will reward courage, respect, honor and ultimately recognize right.”

“A man does what he must – in spite of personal consequences,” Winston Churchill wrote, “in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures – and that is the basis of all human morality.”

How we make those right choices in the long run determines who we will be as individuals and a country.


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