, Gloucester, MA

October 16, 2008

Are we ready to face the truth?

Insights and Outbursts

By Election Day, we will have been overwhelmed by ads and speeches designed to make us doubt the character, abilities and policies of both presidential candidates.

And yet, both Senator McCain and Senator Obama are simply telling us what they think we want to hear.

Neither man will tell the truth about the past or the future of our nation, including the fact that both Democrats and Republicans were well aware of the present financial crisis and did nothing to avoid it. Neither man will tell us that the tax cuts and/or benefits they've proposed are no longer possible.

We're used to ignoring prophets in this country. In 2004, Peter P. Peterson, a founding member of the Concord Coalition, wrote "Running on Empty — How the Democratic and Republican Parties are bankrupting our future and what Americans can do about it" saying that the International Monetary Fund warned that the American economy was "careening toward insolvency ... increasingly owned by, or indebted to, foreigners."

Peterson explained why he wrote the book at that time:

"Because, while our problems are not yet intractable, both political parties are ... locked into a politics of denial, distraction and self-indulgence that can only be overcome if readers like you take back this country from the ideologues and spin doctors of both the left and the right ... We can't expect politicians to do it for us. We the people must make it possible for politicians to do the right thing."

Others told us the truth, but as long as greed and excess paid off for the wealthy and the ignorant, we ignored them. Now that we're perched on the brink of a precipice from which many Americans have already plunged, will we finally heed the prophetic voices in our nation?

Andrew J. Bacevich, professor of History and International relations at Boston University, writes in his 2008 book, "The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism," that "The United States today finds itself threatened by three interlocking crises. The first of these crises is economic and cultural, the second political, and the third military. All three share this characteristic: They are of our own making."

According to Bacevich, a man appreciated across the political spectrum, Americans need realism and humility:

"Realism in this sense implies an obligation to see the world as it actually is, not as we might like it to be. The enemy of realism is hubris, which ... finds expression in an outsized confidence in the efficacy of American power as an instrument to reshape the global order.

"Humility ... summons Americans to see themselves without blinders. The enemy of humility is sanctimony, which gives rise to the conviction that American values and beliefs are universal and that the nation itself serves providentially assigned purposes. This conviction finds expression in a determination to remake the world in what we imagine to be America's image."

Bacevich, a retired U.S. Army Colonel, whose son was killed in Iraq last year, addresses the "endless wars" in which we are involved:

"Seeing themselves as a peaceful people, Americans remain wedded to the conviction that the conflicts in which they find themselves embroiled are not of their own making. The global war on terror is no exception. Certain of our own benign intentions, we reflexively assign responsibility for war to others, typically malignant Hitler-like figures inexplicably bent on denying us the peace that is our fondest wish.

"The impulses that have landed us in a war of no exits and no deadlines come from within. Foreign policy has, for decades, provided an outward manifestation of American domestic ambitions, urges, and fears. In our own time, it has increasingly become an expression of domestic dysfunction — an attempt to manage or defer coming to terms with contradictions besetting the American way of life. Those contradictions have found their ultimate expression in the perpetual state of war afflicting the United States today."

I urge everyone to read "Limits of Power" and learn from the author's warnings about America's path to self-destruction:

"To extend however slightly the here and now, Americans are increasingly inclined to write off the future. So they carry on, heedless of the consequences even for themselves, no less for their children or grandchildren."

Perhaps it is not too late to follow Peterson's advice to "make it possible for politicians to do the right thing" by letting our next president know that we are not only ready for change but are willing to be a part of that change.

Eileen Ford is a regular Times columnist. She is a retired police officer and a Rockport resident.