The two presidential debates held to date reveal as much about us as – the electorate – as about them – the two candidates. And to be honest, it’s not a very flattering picture, nor one that justifies any optimism about the future direction of the nation.
We are naturally focused on the election that will take place in less than three weeks. God knows it is important – perhaps more so that any in the nation’s history. However a Romney win, in and of itself, will do little to change the perilous course our nation is on. It is a course that leads to a cultural and political Armageddon.
The Romney campaign determined early on that the Clinton admonition of 1992 – “it’s the economy, stupid” – is the winning theme for 2012. Unfortunately, it is probably true. I say unfortunately because I would have so much more hope for us if a solid majority of Americans would just as enthusiastically respond to a much more important – and more accurate – clarion call: It’s the culture, stupid.
A few years ago while still serving in Congress, I spoke to a high school assembly in suburban Denver. I asked the students, how many of you believe the United States is the greatest nation on earth? For a long while not one hand went up. Not one. Finally, a few hands were raised. Were they embarrassed by the question or afraid to express an opinion?
In the current campaign, anyone who thinks about it can see that the political issue that has dominated the presidential campaign – the “fairness” of a tax system that is not yet totally confiscatory – is in fact a cultural issue. The question “What is a fair tax?” will be answered by your moral vision more than your checkbook balance.
The problem is not just that 47 percent of Americans pay no federal income tax, though that is not a good thing. The problem is that a hefty percentage of those who do pay income taxes believe that tax rates should be even more “progressive” and that investment income does not deserve a lower tax rate than earned income. In fact, on the drawing boards of the American left is a new tax, the Wealth Tax, to punish anyone who has managed to accumulate wealth over a lifetime.
It is not economic ignorance that motivates millions of highly educated voters, it is the “social justice” ideology sold to them in our schools and colleges.
Thus, our cultural confusion about who we are and where we want to go is deeper than economic arguments. The people of France, Germany and Italy thought they had achieved a sort of social nirvana with the creation of the European Union. In reality, they were signing their own cultural death warrant. Obama and the bulk of the Democratic Party leadership are trying to put the United States on the same path, but that issue and that choice has come up only obliquely in the debates.
Today in Europe, the concept of Western Civilization has no contemporary relevance. To the extent that it is referenced at all, it is a topic of derision and shame because its roots were Judeo- Christian. Is there anything today that could be called European patriotism? Can you imagine a young Belgian expressing willingness to fight and perhaps die for the European Union? No, of course not. There is nothing there!
President Obama feels the same way about America. When asked if he believed in American Exceptionalism, he replied, yes, he does – “in the same way the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” To him, we are the same as everyone else: The United States has no special place in history and no special destiny.
One can hardly blame the Muslims for not assimilating into the culture of their host country even if they wanted to. And most do not. Herein lies the rub. Muslim immigrants are not the least bit confused about who they are. And they are not the least bit inclined to join in the cultural suicide pact of the West. They are, on the other hand, only too willing to supply the hemlock.
We are not far from the precipice over which Europe has fallen. Because we are a nation of such great diversity we must work even harder at inculcating an appreciation for who we are, an understanding of an identity that is unique in the history of the world.
Despite our fascination with debates, we need to recognize an old truth: A people are not defined by the topics they debate. A people or a nation is defined by the things it takes for granted, things that are never debated. When everything is debatable, there are no pillars holding up the temple.
So, yes, our immediate task in November is to oust the dictator in chief and pray that the damage he has done to the republic can be ameliorated. Yet after Obama is defeated, we must steel ourselves for the bigger challenge. We must devote ourselves to making sure that our children and grandchildren will be able to, without hesitation or equivocation, answer the question, Who Are We? Because only then will we be able – every Fourth of July and every day of our lives – to celebrate America’s past, present and future.