11/02/2012 11:12 pm ET Updated Jan 02, 2013

After the Floods: Come Home, America

I would be the last person to find something good to say about the hurricane that devastated the east coast this week. Just the thought (I can't read the news stories) of that young mother in Staten Island whose two little ones slipped out of her arms into the raging flood makes me feel ill.

And then there is this: my mother's home in Rockaway Park, N.Y., looks like a total loss. It may not be if FEMA and the insurance all come through but after 60 years in the big old stucco house, my 94-year-old mother will almost surely never sleep there again.

And our family, which has been connected to the Rockaways since the 1930s, may lose the repository of all our memories and our personal ties to a wonderful, beautiful place. But that is nothing compared to what some of the neighbors are enduring.

No, no tangible good can come out of this, but a transforming change might.

Americans learned over the past week that the greatest threats we face are here at home. Or, as John Quincy Adams put it, Americans now see that we do not need  to "go abroad to slay dragons" when the real dragons are here at home.

The number one threat to us all is climate change, the rising sea levels that made the hurricane such a catastrophe. That is a threat that needs to be addressed globally, but now with the United States among the leaders. We can no longer stand on the sidelines as if our wealth insulated us from natural disasters. After last week, climate change is as local as it is global, as local as New York and New Jersey. Only fools will behave as if America is an exceptional island immune from the storm.

And other changes must come, too. Infrastructure is collapsing. Our medical delivery system is overloaded.  Many of the dams and dikes we need don't exist. The people of the Gulf Coast and now New York and New Jersey paid a price because our government was denied the resources it needed to protect them. (Fortunately, the budget cutters never got to gut FEMA and now they never will.)

And we have wasted our resources on unnecessary wars. That is already changing because we are getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan. And, I think it is safe to say, we are not going in to Iran.

Even if Gov. Romney wins, and I don't think he will, we are not going to war with Iran nor will we allow Israel or any other country to drag us in.  

Romney, an international business consultant, no doubt shares the view of most of those in that sector. Unless directly involved in selling war materiel (like Dick Cheney's Halliburton), business wants to sell to foreigners not bomb them. (And not strangle potential consumers of our goods with sanctions either, as we are doing with Iran). No, the answer is diplomacy. We cannot afford war.

The Iran dragon, if that is what it is, must be dealt with through unconditional negotiations. We have got to stop playing the world's cop.

This does not mean we cannot provide aid to other countries who need it. Our foreign aid programs to Africa, Asia and Latin America are disgracefully small. And we need to provide emergency assistance where needed too. And help struggling democracies.

But mainly we need to focus on America, on securing our people from natural disaster just as we try to do from threats from abroad.

The good news is that protecting Americans from natural threats creates jobs, good jobs. And with the Bush tax cuts slated to expire at the end of the year, we will have the resources to create them. That is so long as the two Middle East wars that we are withdrawing from are not replaced by a new one.

This sounds like isolationism. It is realism. Americans must come first.

The late Sen. George Mc Govern said it best in his acceptance speech in 1972 after his nomination for president:

Come home, America

Come home to the affirmation that we have a dream. Come home to the conviction that we can move our country forward.

Come home to the belief that we can seek a newer world, and let us be joyful in that homecoming, for this "is your land, this land is my land -- from California to New York island, from the redwood forest to the gulf stream waters -- this land was made for you and me."

May God grant each one of us the wisdom to cherish this good land and to meet the great challenge that beckons us home


McGovern was right when he said those words in 1972. Although he is no longer with us. He is still right.

Come home, America. We have a country to rebuild.