A Spokane woman, reflecting the despair of 60 million Romney voters, recently told me, “I’m just not sure where our country is headed anymore.” This sentiment is echoed daily by those wary about what a second Obama term means for Americans desiring more predictable, customary U.S. public policies and frustrated by a stagnant economy. Feeling stuck with a president whose policy agenda has swung leftward unsettles half our nation. But where does that half go when the darkness of liberal culture, excessive federal spending, staggering national debt, stifling regulatory rules and looming tax pressures descend upon us?
Many of my Spokane Republican friends and I felt similarly dispirited in November 1992 when Bill Clinton and Patty Murray were elected. But despondence turned to change… and action, including my election to Congress in 1994. Americans concerned about the direction we fear for our country should avoid the apathy about the promise of America that comes when elections are lost. The hopelessness of 2012 can become the triumph of 2014 — but it will take political discipline and hard work to effect change: Only 24 percent of voters now identify as Republicans.
For Republicans, discipline means second-tier positioning for the social issues of our day; in most cases, they’re already settled law, or matters of states’ rights. They divide us. Regardless of their legitimate distress about cultural decay, candidates centering political campaigns on social issues only will fail. Embracing a growing, young and culturally diverse American demographic, and focusing on their economic futures, can help build a lasting, vital legacy for timeless Republican standards. Young, ethnic citizens are the demographic Republicans must reach if we’re to change our leftward course.
Washington state recently passed a non-medical marijuana use referendum. While my Republican roots have Libertarian highlights, passage of this measure doesn’t enhance our already troubled society, a test all such referenda should be able to pass. Yet it’s symptomatic of a larger cultural shift that bodes ill for American society.
Cullen Murphy wrote the 2007 book, Are We Rome? His thesis applies today. Is the leftward path on which we’re headed under President Obama — staggering federal debt, intrusive national health care, a blurry foreign policy (Benghazi questions, shifting Middle East loyalties, terrorist growth worldwide, Iran poised for nuclear capability) — leading us toward the end of the America the world has respected and followed? The Roman Empire held world authority for centuries, but eventually it crashed, rotting from within, through largess, economic failure, class division and social excess, all elements present in the U.S. today.
Noted author/historian David McCullough returned several years ago to Yale University, his alma mater, to address a student seminar. To begin, he inquired who could tell him who George C. Marshall was? (Hint: former Army Chief of Staff, architect of the World War II victory in Europe, namesake of the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe thereafter). Only four of 25 students could answer correctly. One student asked, “Wasn’t he the guy who invented Martial Law?” Shaking his head in amazement, McCullough thought, “These students are like cut flowers — bright, refreshing, but without roots.”
McCullough’s instructive metaphor may be a prescription for what ails the United States for those of us who believe American fundamentals — strong free market economy, smaller government, lower taxes, modest debt, help for the truly needy, states’ rights — represent the roots of a prosperous and free nation. But if the young people who populate NorthTown Mall, for example, don’t understand essential national roots — and surveys show that they don’t — the Rome that fell may be the Rome we become.
President Obama and other national leaders must set the policies now for American progress and longevity. Any nation with half the voters reviling its leaders and their motivations is one destined for an uprising. Their foremost duty must be to lead with wisdom and purpose; please don’t burden citizens with confiscatory taxes, stifling economic policies, regulatory loads and frustrating health care bureaucracies.
Republicans can despair, or they can look at 2014 as an opportunity for principled, traditional leadership, fully accepting of changing American demographics and eagerly stressing the roots of our nation’s success — roots that Americans must comprehend for effective citizenship. Educated Americans, knowledgeable about history and government, become committed citizens, anxious to perpetuate the deeply rooted truths that are uniquely American. Recognizing and avoiding policies that retreat from the liberty and independence of our founding and embracing principles essential to a prosperous future, are our collective calling. Properly explained, they’ll attract those who constitute the “new” America that exists today.