Peggy Noonan wrote an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal on Friday that I didn’t get to until Sunday evening, but once I did … it smacked me harder than any article I’ve read in a long time! She begins on the current hot topic of the Madoff ‘swindle:’
That’s the big thing at the heart of the great collapse, a strong sense of absence. Who was in charge? Who was in authority? The biggest swindle in all financial history if the figure of $50 billion is to be believed, and nobody knew about it, supposedly, but the swindler himself. The government didn’t notice, just as it didn’t notice the prevalence of bad debts that would bring down America’s great investment banks.
The part that started to grab me was in the next paragraph, as she started talking about the American public’s loss of faith in the institutions we’ve come to believe it:
All this has hastened and added to the real decline in faith—the collapse in faith—the past few years in our institutions. Not only in Wall Street but in our entire economy, and in government. And of course there’s Blago. But the disturbing thing there is that it seems to have inspired more mirth than anger. Did any of your friends say they were truly shocked? Mine either.
I’ve not had all that much faith in most of the institutions she cites above, but I do believe very deeply in some of the systems we’ve embraced; capitalism … republicanism … and most important, Judeo-Christian morality. I don’t believe our government has been trustworthy in my lifetime … and my great-grandfather would most likely have said the same thing during his lifetime as well. Governments have a habit of becoming more onerous and more burdensome to their constituents the longer they are on place.
Peggy goes on to relate a story of a friend in government bemoaning the absence of any ‘wise men’ within government to lead. Over the past one hundred years, our political system has made it less and less desirable for ‘wise’ men (and more recently women) to pursue public office. Teddy Roosevelt, in my opinion one of our five greatest Presidents, would not likely be elected in today’s hyper-politicized, 24/7 media environment.
The bureaucracy of our government civil service system has become a stronghold for union activism, i.e. reducing all job performance to its lowest common denominator. When one thinks of a government worker, one doesn’t picture a dynamic self-starter, putting in 12 to 14 hour days because they are committed to the organization. The first thing that comes to most minds is a postal worker pitching mail into slots, or a road repair crew leaning on their shovels along the roadside watching the junior man on the crew fill the pothole. Wise men don’t generally spring to mind in this context.
The process that candidates for appointed positions within an administration have to endure has become such a circus that the most qualified wouldn’t dare put themselves before such a kangaroo court. So what do we get? The Obama appointments provide a perfect case study … retreads and cronies from past administrations that have not accomplished anything beyond their ability to rise within a bureaucracy. Further, they have already had their pasts vetted, so face little scrutiny as they are considered part of the ‘good old boy’ network (regardless of gender).
And this as much as anything has contributed to the sense you pick up that people feel all trends lead downward from here, that the great days of America Rising are over, that the best is not yet to come but has already been. It is so non-American, so unlike us, to think this, and yet one picks it up everywhere, between the lines and in asides. The other night a man told me of his four children, and I congratulated him on bringing up so many. From nowhere he said, “I worry about their future.” At another time he would have said, “Billy wants to be a doctor.”
This is the point that concerns me more and more. As long as we continue to elect people such as Barak Obama as our ‘leaders,’ we will continue our downward path from the greatness we’ve achieved. As more of our citizens stop investing in our country and become vassals to its largess, the more these same citizens will vote for those who promise them more … the old story of ‘those who rob from Peter to pay Paul can always count on Paul’s full support.’
I tend to be an optimist. I have always believed in America’s greatness and the driver for that greatness; the can-do attitude of the American people. This has been reinforced millions of times … every time someone leaves their home country and comes to America because of the opportunity we afford those willing to work hard and contribute to the American experience … every time someone starts a new business with the vision of becoming the next Bill Gates. Yet even though I view the world optimistically, I don’t view it through rose-colored glasses.
Some recent headlines could just as well have been published in 1850 as today … “Illinois Governor arrested for trying to sell bla bla bla” … “Banking executives accused of being greedy in the bla bla bla” … this is human nature. We’ve lived with evil since the Garden of Eden. There are those who rise above their base nature and others that don’t.
However, more and more I’ve seen the changes in our society as I’ve aged that don’t give me warm fuzzies …
- teachers in public schools willing to let their students fail before accepting responsibility for the continuing failure of those same students to master the most basic levels of education.
- public officials whose only focus is to move on to the next, more prestigious office.
- parents who would rather have their children cheat in school than smoke,
- young people more interested in just becoming famous than in accomplishing anything significant.
- voters who elect the candidate that promises them the most freebies
Peggy goes on in her article to assuage any concern for America’s future after having a conversation with former Secretary of State George Shultz, noting;
Mr. Shultz laid out some particulars of his own optimism. There is “the ingenuity, the flexibility, the strengths of the national economy.” The labor force: “We are so blessed with human talent and resources.” And the American people themselves. “They have intelligence, integrity and honor.”
Twenty years ago I would have seconded Peggy’s conclusion. Today … not so much!