Saturday, March 20, 2010

What Happened to Hope?

What happened to hope?

It is barely a year ago that Barack Obama was elected president with “Hope” as his slogan.

A year later the hope that helped elect Obama has dissipated. Public opinion polls show clearly that a majority of Americans are seeing the United States declining as a world power. More than half of people asked, thought that China would become the dominant world power in the next few years. More important is the fact that few people seem to mind that a whole lot. Many Americans have given up hope. They have accepted that our power and wealth are declining. They are content to be second or third rate.

That's a rather remarkable change within a year. What happened?

We do not know all the reasons for our profound discouragement, but I list below all the relevant stories found in the newspaper on ONE day. With so much bad news on one day, is it a surprise that the enthusiasm of a year ago has evaporated?

In Massachusetts 30 state legislators (out of a total of 160—close to 20%) have decided not to run for office again. There are different reasons in each case, no doubt. But in the last 10 or 15 years several consecutive leaders of the Massachusetts House of Representatives were forced to quit their job because they were caught in serious corruption scandals. The political process is seriously compromised. One can see why people no longer want to participate as elected representatives.

Political corruption is not merely a problem in Massachusetts. A New York congressman, after 34 years in office, was reprimanded by the House Ethics Committee for accepting a free junket to the Caribbean. The governor of the state of New York who replaced Eliot Spitzer, after he was caught in a call girl scandal, now has to give up his the re-election campaign because he got involved on the wrong side in an ugly domestic violence controversy.

Goldman Sachs, deeply involved in the financial manipulations that caused the current economic downturn, is once again making money. At the same time 10% of the US workforce is unemployed. Now it turns out, that Goldman Sachs not only ruined the US economy but helped the Greek government to borrow excessively so that Greece also is now close to insolvency. Spokesmen for Goldman Sachs declared that “they did nothing illegal.” But they are clearly a pretty cynical bunch.

Government spokespersons have been silent in the matter.

The Republicans who have stonewalled any attempts to reform our health care system because (they say) they oppose “big government” and want to support individual liberty, insisted that the Patriot Act be re-authorized without adding any protections for individual liberties against Big Brother Homeland Security, FBI, CIA and other government agencies. Are these Representatives against “big government” or are they for it? A significant number of elected representatives are acting wildly irrationally. It is difficult to foresee what they will do next.
The attempt to extend unemployment benefits was stopped by one senator who was afraid that it would cost too much money. The Senate of the United States has become completely nonfunctional if one legislator can control the actions of the entire Senate. And no one cares for the unemployed whose unemployment payments are running out.

The public, televised Summit about health care reform, showed no sign of willingness to cooperate. Legislators are content to grandstand but are unwilling to get down to work. As a previous blog showed, even if some health care legislation emerges from Congress it will be woefully inadequate because drug company and insurance company money is more powerful than the needs and interests of ordinary voters. There is little hope that the government will act to improve conditions for ordinary citizens.

Another Taliban leader is killed in Pakistan by a CIA missile strike. A missile strike in Pakistan set in motion by the CIA is no different from suicide bombers in Pakistan or elsewhere set in motion by the Taliban or Al Quaeda. In the fight against terrorism we have become terrorists. But no one talks about it; no one raises questions about it. We used to believe that our foreign policy was governed by moral principle (even though that was not always the case.) But today interest in how we conduct ourselves in the world has disappeared. The CIA is free to torture and kill as they please.

It is difficult to feel pride in a government that is completely grid-locked at home, except when it comes to bailing out Goldman Sachs, and is engaging in terrorism abroad. Where ever we look, we see corruption, narrow minded selfishness, a completely nonfunctional legislature, while large numbers of citizens are suffering seriously from lack of employment, lack of housing and affordable health care.

Hope has disappeared. Can we hope for its return?