Over the last 225 years, most of our country's proudest moments have come in the face of dire threats or calamitous events, some from foreign powers; some internal. The American public's response to these crises has been marked by strong resolve and common purpose. And the crises have often become identified, even symbolized, by memorable words from our government leaders, exhortations to stand together; reminders that there is no threat or problem that a unified American people can't overcome.
In 1936, Franklin Roosevelt told a public still reeling from the Great Depression and watching as the seeds of World War II took root, "This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny."
Twenty-five years later, John Kennedy challenged, "My fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." Within a decade, that generation enacted civil rights and voting rights as the law of the land and put a man on the moon.
Hours after the 9-11 attacks, George W. Bush reassured us, "Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America." And the country didn't waver, continuing to grow and prosper.
But sadly, when historians write about the most serious challenges of this time -- near economic collapse; a pitch battle against terrorism on four continents, nations seeking to expand their power and influence by force -- rather than a strong, unified message from our national leaders to inspire and reassure us, the accounts will describe parochial pronouncements and petty arguments. The threats are as potentially devastating as any the country has ever faced, yet the response from many of our elected officials has gotten smaller and smaller in every respect.
Americans once believed in facing serious problems by putting aside differences and working together. Have you heard any such messages from the majority in Congress? Have you heard a syllable about working together on anything? Any appeals to unity? Today's political discourse sounds more like a playground squabble.
We're confronted by the threat of Islamic terrorism, primarily in the Middle East and Africa, so far. In 2003, the Bush Administration let the cork out of the bottle of a Shia-Sunni sectarian split with its decision to invade Iraq. Then it was compounded by "firing" the Iraqi army, which put more than a million armed, angry people out of work and on the street. Where did the Sunni uprising that's been a major element in the Islamic jihad begin? Helloooooo.
Terrorism not only continues in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's metastasized to Syria, Libya, Yemen and Nigeria, Libya and Tunisia in Africa. Circumstances and the U.S. have finally convinced some of our regional allies to get more actively engaged: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan, the U.A.R and others.
Have we heard any support from the majority in either house of Congress for U.S. efforts overseas or to reassure people here at home? No. What we hear is that "the Obama Administration isn't doing enough." "The President isn't decisive." "We have no foreign policy." But we've heard no specifics. No alternatives And, other than Senators McCain, Graham and Ayotte agitating to send in troops, no ideas.
Elsewhere in the world, Russian Premier Vladimir Putin is trying to recreate the Soviet Union by annexing the Ukraine. Our government has imposed serious economic sanctions against Russia and is working with European allies to back Putin off. But the only comments from Republican Congressional leaders are "the Obama Administration isn't doing enough." No specifics. No alternatives. And, other than Senators McCain, Graham and Ayotte agitating to send in troops, no ideas.
The U.S. is in negotiations with Iran to try peacefully to prevent its development of nuclear weapons. There's been a great deal of shrill, partisan criticism from the Republican Congress. But no specifics. No alternatives. And, other than Senators McCain, Graham and Ayotte agitating to send in troops, no ideas.
We also have challenges here at home. The economy is improving slowly but steadily, despite partisan opposition every step of the way. The Affordable Care Act has brought healthcare coverage to 16-million Americans. But it's had its share of problems, and there's room for improvement. Yet the only comments from the Republican Congress are "Repeal it!" "Kill it!" "End it." But no alternative. Not a syllable. Senators McCain, Graham and Ayotte haven't started agitating to send in troops yet, but they may get around to it.
In years past, when our national leaders talked about victory and winning, they meant the United States -- the entire United States -- would defeat enemies overseas and overcome serious problems at home. Now their definition of winning is one political party over another. One Nation under God, so divisible.