Root Causes


The United States government continues in gridlock.  Our elected officials are embroiled in a political tug-of-war over whether to increase spending and the national debt limit.  Largely uninformed citizens wring their hands and shake their heads in disbelief, openly expressing contempt for federal lawmakers.  The President’s approval rating is also in steady decline. He takes little, if any, responsibility for what happens on his watch – not Benghazi, not IRS malfeasance, not the ill-advised red line in Syria, not the untruths he told about healthcare, not Eric Holder’s lawless actions, and not now the shutdown of the government.  Barack Obama’s desk, as distinguished from Harry Truman’s, is a place where the buck never stops. 

Many critics have vociferously called for the resignation of Mr. Obama's Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, because he attempted as a consequence of the shutdown to withhold death benefits from the families of fallen warriors.  He took this action, some believe in concert with the President, not because he had to do so, but to underscore the administration's narrative that cruel adversities are associated with the shutdown and should be placed squarely upon Republican shoulders. The families of our war dead thus became political pawns. What a disgrace!

One would be correct to declare that this shameful response to our nation's heroes represents a seriously debilitated state of American culture and morality. It does.  But one would be incorrect to suggest that it constitutes the low point in this administration’s leadership. The murder of four Americans in Benghazi possesses that inglorious distinction. Before the government shutdown ever occurred, Mr. Obama was recognized by millions of Americans as a dishonorable man and a liar. His presidency has become accursed, in some ways like that of Richard Nixon. 

If one were to assign a grade to the Obama administration, it would have to be an “F.” It stands foursquare for a government that is dysfunctional, untrustworthy, unaccountable, and – worst of all – more intrusive than ever. Only effete intellectuals or other societal drones seem to appreciate it. 

Make no mistake about it, most of what we see and read is hardly about in-depth causes. The prospect of financial default is merely a symptom of a much larger problem in American government.  The failure of elected officials to negotiate in good faith, accompanied by their ceaseless ad hominem attacks against one another, is a symptom as well.  A President who chooses a frivolous and comedic forum, like the “Tonight Show,” in which to discuss vital public policy is neither a serious man nor a leader with an ounce of gravitas; yet the amateurish and even farcical character of Mr. Obama’s presidency is also a surface phenomenon.

Let me attempt to explore root causes of government dysfunction and paralysis. 

First, the media in this country are largely owned and controlled by big financial interests who are comfortably ensconced on the left of the political spectrum. I could adduce reams of evidence in support of this fact, although I am content for the moment simply to state it.  These individuals are not interested in informing you and me. They are interested instead in transforming American culture by framing public issues in a way that furthers their social and political agenda. Think about the degree of power this represents.  It amounts to control over thought and public discourse. Consider how the Trayvon Martin episode was framed, and also consider why it was framed in the manner it was. 

Second, as Professor Rob Sobhani emphasizes, immigration influences everything. America is not an “it,” but a “they.”  The people who have immigrated here for the last half century, legally and illegally, are in large measure from the Third World. Millions have been encouraged not to assimilate to American cultural values and have therefore not done so.  Many have come for little more than economic opportunity and could not care less about being good citizens.  A number who have come have retained citizenship in their native countries and literally hold on to old loyalties and ways. As a result, the underlying sense of American community has been diminished.  The ties that bind us together as a civil society have loosened and are in danger of breaking apart.  

Third, American higher education is at war with the nation's core values. It has served to advance the erroneous idea that our public square was intended from the start to be “godless.” It has characterized the history of our nation as a study in oppression.  It has preached Neo-Darwinism as a religion. Its mission, in short, has not really been one of critical thought, but of indoctrination. Thousands of graduates who emerge from the system are not so much uninformed as they are misinformed.

Fourth, governmental institutions like the Supreme Court have bought into the secularists’ narrative, and societal institutions like the mainline Protestant Church have been too cowardly to challenge it.  

So what is this shutdown really about?  It is about America's most quintessential problem -- our nation has lost the culture that elevated it to dizzying heights of excellence and trussed it together against all enemies, domestic and foreign.  Dysfunction reigns throughout America, because the traditional “American way of life,” to which Louis Hartz and Will Herberg once referred, is now in shambles. America has lost its identity. 

I expect cultural dissension to continue to divide the country.  The checks and balances of our governmental system, I also suspect, will prove unworkable in this context. The philosophy of liberalism, which touts individualism, liberty, equality, and democracy, will eventually collapse in the absence of a unified civil society seeking a common good. 

Barack Obama and the current shutdown of government exemplify not so much what America is, but what it is no longer, and that is a community of people, culturally united, who love freedom and assume responsibility for it.

October 14, 2013