Step back and calmly contemplate the state of our great nation. Does anyone see anything beyond the confusion, disillusionment and ambiguity? All of it was in evidence during last month's State of the Union message when President Obama set the tone for what many say is a political showdown with a feisty Republican Congress.
Given paralysis of governance in Washington, one is hardly surprised that public discontent grows stronger and Congress' approval rating dips to an all-time low. And why should Americans care when all that our elected politicians do is engage in political squabbling, huddle behind closed doors to plan their next maneuver and give increasing evidence of their obedience to lobbyists and special-interest groups. Meanwhile, problems go unresolved -- reforming Social Security, overhauling the tax code, addressing national debt, dealing with ballooning student loan debt.
Anyone watching the State of the Union address must be befuddled. For instance, many Americans might not ordinarily believe U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, whether under Republicans or Democrats, is not based on strategic vision but haphazard and random shifts in response to events on the ground: civil war in Syria, emergence of the Islamic State (ISIS), upheavals in Yemen and this past week the United Arab Emirates bowing out of the U.S.-Arab coalition battling ISIS.
One wonders if that volatile stew of conflicting passions and ideologies rivals those in Congress. Republicans and Democrats have reached an unprecedented level of disdain toward each other. One might ask how on earth we reached this state. Why do politicians in D.C. and elsewhere bicker and seek to undo whatever policy the other party proposes? The answer lies in the influence of Big Money, loyalty to party rather than country and a simple lack of respect for differences of opinion.
It's almost as though we're unable to have a dialogue anymore. So many self-described patriots and progressives would do well to consider Thomas Jefferson's insight: "Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle."
How dangerous is all this? Well, now foreign leaders are suddenly becoming chess pieces in this battle. For instance, House Speaker John Boehner's invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before a joint session of Congress on March 3 is a complete breach of diplomatic protocol. It is customary such invitations are coordinated by the White House and State Department first so as to avoid the appearance of influencing or endorsing a particular foreign guest speaker (Mr. Netanyahu and Israel in this case).
Boehner's invitation lays down new markers in political strife. Republicans want to undermine the president of the United States in a humiliating fashion, even if it means siding with a foreign leader to do so. It signals to the rest of the world how divided our government is. Only a few years ago, it was always the welfare of the nation first, not the scoring of political points to the detriment of the American people.
Have we forgotten the power of compromise, such as when Democrats and Republicans during the Clinton administration reached agreements on spending issues to produce the budget surpluses of the early 21st century?
I could not agree more with former House Budget Committee chairman and current Ohio Gov. John Kasich when he stated: "We're fiddling around while Rome burns," a droll but dark reference to the blaze in A.D. 64 that spawned the popular legend that Roman leader Nero played a fiddle while most of that great city went up in smoke.
Where from here? We must ask ourselves whether we're well-informed about the issues and challenges facing our nation. Do we participate in the political process besides voting? Do we depend on marginal media outlets to feed us censored information because we're intellectually too lazy to check facts and do our homework? Do we understand the outsized role that special-interest groups, lobbyists and secret donors play in the American political system?
Everyday citizens have much to do. It pains me that the political system that I and many others came to cherish, value and admire is fading, paving the way for one which, with the influence of almighty cash, seems to be devolving from democracy into oligarchy. George Washington was right: "Influence is no government." Restoration of our republic is more urgent than ever before.