It’s cliche and makes me cringe a little bit to write, but I’ll write it anyway: Our country is at a crossroads.
In the 80 years since the onset of the Great Depression, America has built, in fits and starts, a moderate social welfare state and limited international empire that appears to be on the verge of collapse due to a combination of bad fiscal habits, demographic realities, and rising international competition. We’re approaching a moment when America is going to be forced to take a very fundamental change in direction. We’re in an obviously unsustainable place, and, yet, while they talk about it for hours on end, none of our esteemed leaders seems to be really able to admit it. I mean really admit it, much less act on the admission.
I feel like America needs to join an international twelve-step meeting. Hi, I’m America, and I’m addicted to having it all . . . .
The historically dominant western countries, built on the twin principles of democracy and social welfare, seems to be reaching their limits, practically and intellectually. Rather than believing we’ve reached the “End of History,” as one famously phrased it, I tend to think we’re on the cusp of change that will be quite fundamental.
What will it be? I don’t know, exactly. While I have my own fuzzy ideas about what it should be, of course, that’s a post for another time.
But I sense that it’s coming, and that we’ll need a transformational leader to help America successfully navigate it with our own fundamental principles still intact.
In many ways, President Barack Obama is a remarkable man.
His public speaking is first rate. His intelligence is impressive. His personal conduct is beyond reproach; he’s a model husband and father. In the last year he has shown a remarkable ability to learn and adapt from past failures — for evidence, just look compare his rather dismal performance in July 2012 to a very astute political performance during December 2012 (of course, winning an election in the interim helps . . . but still).
But despite all the talk about transformation, hope, and change that accompanied his election in 2008, President Obama hasn’t been, and won’t be, the type of transformational leader America needs.
The type of transformative leader we need isn’t someone who will take us into a new Era of Good Feelings. As much as we are all frustrated with the partisanship and political ridiculousness, more cooperation isn’t necessarily the cure for what ails America.
The type of transformative leader we need isn’t someone who will take us into the next stage of the entitlement state. We’ve seen where that leads.
We need someone willing to take us in a new direction.
I don’t know that I see anyone out there right now who fits the bill.
But the history of America teaches us that looks can be deceiving.
After all, who would have guessed that timid, uncertain Abraham “I have no intention of interfering with slavery where it now exists” Lincoln would be the one who launched America into the Civil War and accompanying transformation. Or that mild-mannered Harry “Failed Haberdasher” Truman would be the one to end WWII by dropping the atom bomb on Japan and commence the Cold War with containment in Berlin and Korea? Or that a B-list Hollywood actor would bring down the USSR after Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Nixon had each failed?
You get the picture. The person we need may not look like the person we need at all.
Peering into the future, especially in uncertain times, leaves us looking through a glass darkly. While we can sense approaching change, we can’t see clearly what seems so inevitable in hindsight.
But while things are still fuzzy as far as the future is concerned, what we can look for in our leaders is a commitment to doing what needs to be done to position America for the future. Don’t see much of that out there right now. Anywhere.
And that should concern us quite a bit.
Because something’s coming, due any day, and we need to be ready, soon as it shows . . . .