During the height of the Cold War, I was asked by my country to go into a communist nation in Eastern Europe in support of some of the most brave and courageous men and women who ever walked the earth, and were ultimately triumphant as freedom rose and the Berlin Wall fell.
There was a Great Generation that won the Second World War; and there was a Great Generation in Eastern Europe that tore down bricks of the Berlin Wall. Every generation faces its historic challenge and will judged by the ledger of accountability of history. Ours began five years ago next month.
When our generational challenge was imposed five years ago, our entire nation shared the rally cry "united we stand" and Democrats and Republicans stood arm in arm in front of our capital, singing God Bless America in unison.
What has happened to us?
The great inflection point in post 9-11 America was the decision to pull forces away from Afghanistan, when we had a stellar chance to kill Bin Laden, and invade Iraq, a decision supported almost unanimously by the President and Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress, supported almost unanimously by the national leadership of the Democratic and Republican parties, and supported almost unanimously by the Democratic and Republican national security establishments.
Lets talk about those who serve. My view is, is it morally indecent and patriotically shameful that we send young men and women to war, let some of them die not by enemy fire alone but by our unwillingness to give them adequate armor and even now, years into this war, not provide even enough bandages and helmets.
99% of our Establishment supported this war, yet 1% pay the entire price, while we have our debates from the safety of home, hurling insults at each other, listening to our IPOD's, counting our stock market gains, with many reaping rewards from huge tax cuts, while others lie and cheat to profit from their stock options.
Lets talk about where we are, five years after 9-11.
We have gone from a country that was virtually 100% united, and a free world that was virtually 100% behind us, to a partisanship that has torn us apart at home, a free world that is divided and strongly opposed rightly or wrongly to the war we fight, and a political discourse that has degenerated into insults, demagoguery, and dirt mongering so ugly that both parties and the major media are now disrespected by the majority of our people.
Lets talk about John F. Kennedy, my model for hero, leader and a commander in chief, who said "ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country".
What would JFK say about 1% war, where virtually everyone with power from both parties sends our troops to war, then permits some of them to die needlessly because of our neglect?
What would JFK say about multi-millionaire media moguls who gather at Sun Valley and tell each other they feel poor because of the low value of their old properties, when any one of them could champion the cause that would rally tens of millions of military families and faith believers, yet not one of them does in a serious way? I guess some feel poor with a net worth of $500 million, while others risk their lives to protect them, and some of their families are harrassed by debt collectors because their low and late pay puts their families in a squeeze.
What would JFK say about the nationally known Democrat who told me personally seven times over two years that I was wrong, that the armor protection was not needed, and who then when the Marine Corps report said up to 70% of our casualties were preventable, used the issue as a fundraiser for himself? Or the person with a net worth of $3-4 million who complained to me about the pain of an $800 bill as a reason for not doing more to help those who serve our country?
What would JFK say about our commander in chief and fleet of neocon warriors and and political partisans? I dont care whether they served in the military or not, but it is a disgrace that they treated the former Army Chief of Staff with public contempt, that they did not fight like hell to get the troops what they need, and that they use war partisanship as a political weapon to divide the nation and disserve the troops.
What would JFK say about our 1% war, when the entire sacrifice is borne by so few, in the most wealthy nation in the history of the world? What would JFK say about homeless heroes who served our country so bravely, came upon hard times, and deserve our support and our love every hour of every day? What would JFK say about our modern invention of our 1% war, which has never happened in the history of our country?
Fortunately for America there there are good people doing the right thing. God Bless Cher, who really champions the good cause. God Bless those on the right, such as Michael Ledeen, who care passionately about the troops beyond anything political. God Bless those on the left, such as Randi Rhodes, who served our country herself and champions the troops and vets with integrity and conviction. God Bless those two good friends and great war horses of the Great Generation, both war heroes themselves, Bob Dole and George McGovern, who are always there for the vets and who have worked together for a generation to feed the hungry.
Lets talk about terrorism. What kind of leaders try to create fear, and exploit fear, and use fear for partisan political ends? Would JFK be promoting a politics of fear and division, or a leadership of courage and bravery that aims to lift us to greatness, not frighten us into surrending most of our unity and many of our freedoms?
Yesterday an Administration official, speaking of the latest terrorist threat, said: "This one is the real deal". Is this a Freudian confession that other terror threats, which often appeared at politically opportune moments, which once inspired our capital to panic buying of bottled water and gas masks, were not the real deal?
Lets talk about the media. There is a huge and gigantic migration of news seeking Americans away from the elites of the old media that popularize the slander and the sensation, that promote the divisive and demeaning, that lowers common denominator of what passes for American political discourse. Even Fox is facing ratings pressure.
There is an extraordinary opportunity to bring the integrity and fearless journalism to the new media and rally this huge, giant, currently underserved audience. Will we see the triumph of the Edward R. Morrow spirit reaching the vast audience that awaits it, or the endless parade of talking head trivia, partisan propaganda, and insiderism of Tucker Carson, Bill O'Reilly and Chris Matthews?
Lets talk about groupthink, which in my view, is the heart of what has gone wrong in the five years since the unity of patriotism after 9-11, to gutter political discourse and rampant national divisions that plague us today.
There are four competing groupthinks that tell the story. First, the groupthink of the right, that treats other Americans as domestic enemies and throws around words like treason and Godless. Second, there is the groupthink of the left, in which it is not enough to support Ned Lamont and oppose Joe Lieberman, as I did, where some succumb to the temptation to the rhetoric of rage and derision. Third, there is the groupthink of the media, which parrots the worst of partisanship, derision, smears, sensationalism and the inside baseballism of so many who have been proven so wrong, smugly talking to each and down to us.
What does it say about American democracy five years after 9-11, that many of our best people choose not to participate in government, large numbers of our voters choose not to participate in elections, and even the integrity of vote counting is subject to legitimate doubt and worthy of major investigation?
Lets talk about America after 9-11, and the fourth and most important groupthink: the American people, who believe in the America where we are in this together, who pray for a political discourse of intelligence based on shared patriotism, and who in overwhelming numbers reject the political and media elite that violate their goodwill and common sense.
The great giant center of the American spirit, in overwhelming numbers, rejects the more extreme sneer and leer of the groupthink right, the groupthink left, and the groupthink media. The great giant center of the American spirit truly does believe that we should all ask what we can do for our country, and every time they are asked by the few leaders who ask, they answer the call with the bravery and generosity worthy of any great generation.
Why is it, five years after 9-11, that following every tragedy from 9-11 to the tsunami to Katrina there is an incredible outpouring of generosity from our people, followed almost immediately, by the return to partisanship, division and derision by our elites?
It is both a destructive tragedy and a dramatic opportunity that so many on the right and left, so many who lead both political parties, so many who comprise our media elites act in ways viewed as alien by the great and giant heart of the American spirit.
In the end I am an optimist, because every time the trumpet has summoned them, the American people have responded with true bravery, good will, common sense and a generosity of spirit. Ours is a great generation of people sold short by a lost generation of elites; ours is a right stuff people sold short by wrong stuff politicians and media.
Yet, in a nation of freedom, democracy and capitalism it has always been true, and in the end always will be true, that what is best of America will always trump those who try to bring us down, or tear us apart. Lincoln said they can fool some of the people some of the time: our Founding Fathers created brilliant means of self-correction that will work again, as they have always worked before.
Freedom and democracy are words that mean far more than convenient labels to justify various policies. In our lifetime we have seen heroes who defeated communism and fascism; men and women who handed together to turn a Europe of the gas chamber into a continent of freedom and bastion of NATO; We have seen freedom fighters in Eastern Europe move from being political prisoners of communist dictators to heads of state of free nations.
I'm suggesting privately, today, that once this election is over, no matter who prevails, the President and leading Democrats together invite all surviving recipients of the Medal of Honor to Washington to salute their heroism and follow their spirit.
September 11, 2006 will be a day to honor those incredible American heroes who made us so proud that day and always. And to reflect with each other, how every one of us can live up to the standards they left for us, to bring out the best of our country, and to make true in deeds as well as words, that America should
always be One Nation, Indivisible.