American's short attention span hops from critical issues to trivialities with the delicate ease of an Olympic gymnast. Our tendency to be drawn into the flavor-of-the-month news and entertainment painfully recalls the Roman Empire's dying days when bread and circuses were the politician's favorite tools.
When I-bankers paid themselves billions it became overwhelmingly apparent to even the most gullible that the bank bailouts were simply a fleecing of the current and future middle class. Public furor arose but then the masses soon got distracted.
FDR had declared, "I don't want to see a single war millionaire created in the United States as a result of this world disaster" with the Truman Committee enforcing this decree yet little is done to prosecute the past and ongoing scams in Iraq and Afghanistan. The audacity of frauds by Halliburton and others drew the public ire but attention was soon diverted.
Today thousands of soldiers risk their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan while online news agencies have virtually no stories about these conflicts. Citizens without direct relatives or close friends in these areas rarely express interest in activities that have cost thousands of lives and continue to cost billions of American dollars spent EVERY month. Our attention moves quickly.
The Gulf Oil Spill was going to ruin the environment for generations so BP must compensate ...and then the public moved on. The Times Square bomber reminded us of how vulnerable we are ...and then the public moved on. Airport security invades our privacy, the Arizona shootings prompt vacuous gun control debates, "blood libels" hop across the airwaves and like a distracted child we spin from topic to topic moving nowhere while making ourselves dizzy.
I'm tired of self-defeating intellectualists pontificating about America's imminent decline and anti-intellectualists deluding themselves that America is perfect - both are pointless and dangerous.
What will it take to ensure that the US's future greatness? Start by putting down the Ritalin and the remote control. Rather than flitting about, commit to greatness by:
- Studying the best practices of other countries. Improve our education, health care, safety, environment, energy policy etc. by seeing what has worked elsewhere rather than falsely assuming that America always has the best answers.
- Make democracy work. Reform the winner-take-all election format that has fostered the parasitic lobbying industry, exclusion of third parties and rendered most American votes meaningless. Why defend the 18th century technology for running our government?
- Stop choking the middle class. Tax, health care, education and other public policies are gutting the middle class. This is nothing more than national suicide where the current elites are allowed to actively killing our nation's future.
- Develop, don't abandon American manufacturing. Low-end manufacturing will always migrate to the cheapest labor but higher-end manufacturing still thrives in many developed countries. American manufacturing can be profitable if we produce goods whose higher quality offsets the labor costs. The government needs to stop pandering to short-sighted and narrow corporate interests that encourage outsourcing critical manufacturing and exporting our best technology.
- Enable education and immigration policies to drive America's future. Extend the school year and make quality higher education affordable. Further open the legal immigration doors to the best international talent inviting them to learn, build businesses and encourage the best to stay.
- Don't be lazy or selfish. Short-term thinking creates long-term bad decisions.
America needs to plan for the next 50 years of greatness not the next commercial break. The time to act is now, while we are still the world's most dominant economic and military power.
Follow Howard Steven Friedman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/howardsfriedman