“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
United States of America Declaration of Independence
Why was America not completely outraged by the charades that were played out at both political conventions in this last election cycle? Why are the American people not taking to the streets and demanding their country back from these feckless, disingenuous and negligent politicians. Kick all the bastards out is what I say, because there is no difference between them. They are both equally content making hay while taking the country on a reckless joyride off a dangerous moral and fiscal cliff. The GOP and the Democrats have both been effectively operating a convenient revolving door policy, ratcheting up the ideological rhetoric every so often, to keep the country deeply divided and completely distracted, so that we never really pay attention to the real issues anymore – the ones that affect ALL of us and our children; irrespective of gender, race, wealth or religious belief.
I have always thought of America as an idea; an idea born out of the belief that if all men are free (and not beholden to anyone) then they might one day also be equal. This equality is not about being uniformly rich, poor, male, female, or possessing some God given talent, but one born out of the ability to make something of ourselves, no matter what our starting lot in life may have been. This is an equality built on success that comes from hard work, integrity and determination; and that is something any man or woman can attain. This success is not measured by the size of your bank balance or the size of your house, but by how you much you changed the hand you were dealt and the circumstances you were born into and what you managed to accomplish, in your lifetime, both by seizing and building on the opportunities afforded to you by this country. Every son was meant to build on the success of his father and every daughter reach higher than her mother. And yes, it did take a few generations to achieve tremendous success, and not everybody does or will, but the point was that you tried. This American ideal was also never just about just me, me and me, but also about my country, my fellow man and most importantly about the greater good. It was rooted in a belief that every American was merely a small part of a much greater and more powerful whole. While each of us is encouraged, to individually reach for the stars, we are also meant to help our fellow Americans along the way, especially those who are less capable, less able and less intelligent. It was never meant to be a survival of the fittest, fastest and strongest; that philosophy can never lead to a truly great society or a wonderfully prosperous nation. However, it was also never about creating a welfare state, where we encouraged those less fortunate and less capable to rely on hand outs for their subsistence. It simply goes back to the old adage of teaching a man how to fish. Keeping with this same analogy, consider that in order to help him learn to fish we may need to extend him a loan to buy equipment and a boat, but that he will repay the loan once he has secured his livelihood.
This is where both Republicans and Democrats have it so completely wrong today. It is not a choice between one and the other. It is very easy to say that everyone should pull himself up by his own bootstraps, get an education and earn an honest and decent living without any help along the way from the government or anyone else. Equally, it is easy to create a system where we encourage people to become dependent on government assistance for life. Poverty does not create laziness; I know many more rich kids who sit around doing nothing. Lack of opportunity and lack of being challenged (or having things come too easily) both create different but equally bad dependencies. A key to any nation’s future success is based on two basic fundamentals; a path to a good education or skills and good parenting that instils the ethic of honest hard work, in our children. No amount of government, big or small, or legislation can fix these two problems. We all need to start by embracing good old fashioned values and once again take on the great responsibility of parenting much more seriously. Fixing the education system is harder, but what we do know is that throwing money at the problem does not work. I would wager that putting every school back in the hands of a great principal, and fully empowering them to hire and fire teachers and determine their own curriculum, will go further than any effort in the last few decades. And finally, there is also a role for government and for every individual - only a better and more responsible combination of these two things will guarantee America’s future success. This is what once made America the greatest nation on earth; this along with the fact that when it really mattered - Americans of all colours, viewpoints, religious and political affiliations, consistently managed to rise above their differences, and cable news divisions, to unite under one flag in pursuit of a higher purpose.
However, much of this seems to no longer be true of the America we live in today. The politicians, media and pundits (who masquerade as newsmen) are in large part to blame for the vitriol and divisiveness that exists today. One that has opinion makers taking sides and digging in for sound bites and ratings, rather than working to help offer solutions to some of the big problems this nation faces. But it is all too easy to blame the powers that be and forget that we too are all complicit in reducing this to an America of two extremes; depending on which ideology we aspire to. There is a successful and rich half that believes everyone should find their own way, without any help from government and without access to the same opportunities they had. The other half seems to have convinced themselves that people born into poverty cannot break the cycle; so it easier to let them resent their luck for being born on the wrong side of the tracks, and live on welfare. This rather than making sure that our government and each of us work to provide them with opportunities that will allow them to one day make their way over to the other America. It almost feels as if the poor segments are being told (by both parties) that they are entitled to government assistance in lieu of access to opportunities that will help them improve their lives and enable them to stand on their own two feet. Meanwhile, the cumulative effect of all this is that the principles, values and work ethic that were once at the heart of the American Dream are being reduced to fast disappearing middle class, along with the idea that was once America.