My personal inclination runs to the philosophical. I attempt to find a perspective outside the paradigms that have come to define our Age of Technology. Rather than examining the trends of Postmodernity and Globalization I prefer to examine the values and assumptions that give rise to them.
I seldom look to the political realm for serious and fundamental discussion of the perplexities that face our troubled world. For me the sphere of politics is by its nature narrow and proscribed. The cycle of campaigns and elections, of candidates and issues, offers little opportunity for actually evaluating the authoritative institutions of law and learning within which all public questions are decided.
But I also recognize the mundane practical concerns that must be attended to while one engages those larger philosophical matters. In the case of America those practical considerations include a basic economic stability, an atmosphere of social equity among its people, and beyond these what might be called its moral imperative as the single Great Power in the world.
There is, after all, a particular importance attached to the well-being of the United States because of its role as arbiter of international affairs and guarantor of order among nations. In stating this, the purpose is neither to approve nor condemn the role America has assumed or that has been thrust upon it. For the purpose here, it is enough to simply accept the fact that America plays a predominant role in the world today.
Some view its recent overseas conduct as an abuse of prerogative–an unwise tendency to intervene in foreign conflicts, leaving mostly destruction and confusion in its wake. Others view America as a paragon of freedom, democracy and the rule of law–a country that is fulfilling a historic, perhaps even Biblical, mission around the world.
Over the past decade much evidence could be amassed to substantiate either point of view. Yet, neither side of this argument is relevant to our discussion here. Whatever one’s opinion, all must agree that America has paid a dear price for its announced purpose of carrying its way of life to the disadvantaged and oppressed peoples of the earth.
In fact, it was an appeal to those high ideals and America’s unique role in the world that formed a major theme in the last presidential election. As the world watched and listened those lofty tenets were restated by a new voice and with a unique eloquence. The hope of their fulfillment was a decisive factor in the electoral result.
To many persons, including myself, what had been set forth seemed to be much more than merely campaign platitude. It not only touched on a deeper crisis of spirit afflicting the American people, it also touched on transcendent matters important to virtually all peoples. Few public careers have been launched with higher expectations or greater promise. None has embarked with more public adulation around the world.
But in the course of his brief tenure the performance of the new president has proven to be disappointing. In the practical matter of actually governing, the new administration seemed to lose its direction. On the basic level of setting forth a clear purpose, of controlling expenditure, of instilling discipline where necessary and unity where possible, it appeared to be weak.
Of course, those failures can be explained and forgiven as arising from the difficult task at hand. But as his strategy for re-election developed, there emerged another type of shortcoming that could not be so easily set aside. In the new campaign the president and his advisors fell to the visceral tactics of malice and rancor instead of ensuring a useful discussion of important matters. The ideals and inspiring rhetoric of the past were discarded.
For a president elected on the basis of the high standard he set and the hope he inspired this has become a most disturbing failure and amounts to a kind of betrayal. By abandoning the attributes that secured his election he has sacrificed the vast mandate given him. It raises to question the true identity of this person so many of us looked to and admired. Perhaps most of all these failures betray certain weaknesses of the man himself–a combination of inexperience on one side and a lack of full maturity on the other.
The result of this dissonance of word and deed has become obvious, even to those who were his ardent supporters. It is these deficiencies that have led to a present situation in which America is no longer adequately governed. His administration has no true leader. It has no useful relations with Congress. It is impotent to act in the current economic crisis. Its role in world affairs has become confused and ineffectual. It can neither terminate nor prosecute a war.
However, in this quandary a clear alternative has emerged. Once again America approaches the culmination of another protracted campaign for the presidency. In the spectacle of its politics every possible difference between the two candidates has been discovered and magnified. Yet, between them the difference lies not so much in the policies and positions they advocate as it does in the difference between the two men themselves.
For many people the deeply held religious convictions of the challenger may seem simplistic, strange, or even at some level repugnant. Yet, undeniably, his principles run far deeper than mere politics. He holds them with an unmitigated fervor and in three decades of highly visible professional life followed by more than a decade of highly visible public life he has proven he will not deviate from them.
Moreover, for the practical and mundane purposes that need to be carried out those convictions provide a solid anchor of predictability. Because what this country needs now has nothing necessarily to do with high-flown rhetoric, with personal style, or with the theatrics of social legislation. Its most important needs are much more elemental in nature.
To me, at least, the challenger is better equipped to satisfy the pedestrian necessities of government. On the domestic front he will be better able to manage, to oversee, to direct, to balance accounts, to control waste, and to prevent misappropriation. Sophisticated or not, these mundane abilities need to be introduced into the councils of government.
With regard to foreign affairs the challenger’s position on questions of world policy may seem outdated, overly bellicose, even reminiscent of the Cold War. Yet in fact, they may not be so different from the murky ruminations of the incumbent, except in that they are stated more explicitly and emphatically.
Nonetheless, my expectation is that, right or wrong, his views will be no more dangerous in their execution than those existing under the indecision of the current administration. There are obvious advantages to having a leader who can be understood with clarity by all sides. If there will not be agreement, there might at least be respect.
For me, the importance of the moment can be summarized in a few sentences: It is laudable to espouse high purpose and aspirations. It is good to advance the benefits of prosperity and hope around the world. It is good to have the capacity to act on behalf of all peoples. However, we must always recognize priorities. We must have our own house in order and take care of our own people before we can take on the perplexities that face the world.
Even those of us with a philosophical inclination must put first things first. Only then can we move on to the larger matters, of which the realm of politics is only an incidental part. Within a nation that is so predominant in the affairs of the world, reflection on larger purposes is a very important thing. Yet, even the loftiest plan to improve the human condition requires a foundation of practicality established deeply in the terra firma of earth.
We live in a world being reshaped by technology–when government is being redefined in a process of Globalization. It is a world undergoing profound changes in the ordering of human life—what social scientists call Postmodernity. At such a moment it is supremely ironic that America, the single Great Power of the world, is buried in a morass of ineptitude and is powerless to act even to straighten its own affairs. The present administration has squandered its opportunity. It is time for a change.