America's prospects appear no better today than at the conclusion of the second Bush presidency. Consumer confidence is at its lowest point since the financial collapse preceding the 2008 elections. Only 15% of the American people have confidence in the government. Presumptive Democratic candidate for president, Barack Obama's strongly approve/disapprove rating is a record negative 22% with only 18% of Americans strongly approving his performance versus 40% strongly disapproving. The current field of Republican presidential candidates is singularly uninspiring such that in head on head polls with the president they score no better than a statistical dead heat. Does anyone honestly think that any of these candidates including the president can inspire confidence, pull the country together, and take us into the new direction that polls indicate 75% of Americans desire?
It should be evident by now that the American people have rejected the extreme ideologies espoused by the dominant wings of our two major political parties. You could not ask for more faithful tribunes of the extremes than President Obama on the left and the seven republican contenders on the right who recently unanimously voiced their rejection of a hypothetical budget compromised of ten parts spending reductions and one part tax increase. One side would divide us by class and circumstances and spend us into oblivion and the other would disintermediate our public institutions and further divide us pitting individuals against each other in Darwinian competition of the fittest. Both would destroy our most valuable asset, those mystical ties of community and fellowship that bind us together making of us one out of many.
The first President Bush, a fundamentally decent man, was swept from office during a mild recession. In retrospect, America was doing pretty well -- at peace after assembling a broad coalition of nations to roll back Iraqi aggression in Kuwait and poised for technologically driven economic expansion. Yet, Bush lacked that "vision thing." Even in the best of times, leadership requires vision, something around which a dynamic and ever changing nation can rally.
In these troubled times, it would be wonderful if a Washington, Churchill, or Lincoln would present themselves or even a Roosevelt or Reagan capable of bridging our differences and providing that unifying vision required to excite and harness the energy of the American public. But until that day comes, we must provide leadership ourselves. We have the political left and right which have become caricatures of themselves. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair conjured up a "Third Way," a rhetorical sleight of hand offering safe haven for the political elite and common ground for the prevailing morally and intellectually bankrupt ideological extremes, but little to move us forward. We need to develop a "Fourth Way," the American Way -- neither left, right, or bipartisan, but a non partisan common sense program for American civic renewal.
I am not talking about "splitting the difference" or making happy talk among partisans, but a detailed transformational agenda to bring our much neglected 222 year old government into alignment with the needs of a twenty first century society and overcome the accumulated damage of a professional political caste that is incompetent, irresponsible, and corrupt.
In 1776, a collection of citizen representatives met and drafted a Declaration of Independence to free themselves from the dictates of a distant and unresponsive aristocracy. Today we face a similarly unresponsive but home-grown political aristocracy dedicated to its own self-perpetuation. We must reassert our independence from those who would rule but fail to serve, reestablish and enforce fiduciary standards for those privileged to serve, and assert a new common sense agenda blind to the interests of the few, the powerful, and the corrupt, infused with the American tradition of generational responsibility, and dedicated to furthering our collective interests.