23 September 2009

1979 or 2009?

“In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.”

“We were sure that ours was a nation of the ballot, not the bullet. . . We were taught that our armies were always invincible and our causes were always just.”

“Washington, D.C., has become an island. The gap between our citizens and our government has never been so wide.”

“We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One is a path I’ve warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure.”

-From Pres Jimmy Carter’s A Crisis of Confidence speech 5 July 1979

I am not for all the ‘Go USA’ type stuff, but it is alarming when a speech given three decades ago can be applied to now.  I left out the majority of the speech’s focus: energy.  Carter goes ahead to promise various ways that oil consumption was going to be cut.  I left that part out because he seems to have been too idealistic.  It seems that the path of ‘fragmentation and self-interest’ was chosen and his speech ignored.  Not remembered for being the best president, but history has shown that it was not necessarily the decisions of the presidency that led to the recession and oil crisis. 

So maybe the blame needs to be moved from the Bush presidency and onto the American public.  Why doesn’t (at least I have yet to hear this yet) someone blame the people for not wanting stricter regulations or for living outside of their own means.  It seems too easy to blame the federal government for problems when they are simply a reactionary mechanism.

Thanks to brilliant, yet stupid, laws and legislation, the American congress is incapable of creating a bill in a timely manner.  It is a reactive body that changes something already wrong.  So as healthcare is failing and energy problems predicted decades ago are coming to be true; the congress reacts.  Yet, shock is the reaction when we put a band-aid on a bullet hole.

That does not mean that states rights should be suddenly increased.  Too many individualist states caused the first American government to collapse and has continued to be problematic when concerning issues such as drug laws.  What can be done is to no longer accept mediocrity.  Yes, the new healthcare bill will provide more coverage, but it will add debt and fail to achieve its true goal of universal healthcare.

I pin my frustrations upon living in Kenya for the past nine months.  With little or no ability to affect government policy, most Kenyans simply sit and hope that it will change on its own.  Dissent is still silenced and the ruling elite maintain a firm grasp upon Kenyan politics.  Right now, there is a debate over various government positions that the parliament do not want to see be reappointed.  Despite this, the presidency went ahead and made the appointments.  Even the elected parliament has little say.  They did in fact move to prevent the appointment and found success.  However, it seems that the ousted men will soon find new work within the Kenyan government.  Shuffling the deck does not change the cards that lie within. 

I can understand their inaction, because short of a revolution Kenya is incapable of change.  We should not invoke Jefferson and rise up in arms (in either the US or Kenya), but should use our better political system to enact the change we want.  Not the false change used as a slogan by a politician.

One of these semi-rants hits me every so often.  Today, I happened to be at my computer when it happened.  Again, these are personal reflections and sentiments.  I am not speaking on behalf any person or organization.

You can read the entire Carter speech here.