Last week I was honored to be invited to a luncheon for World War II veterans. The meeting was called to order with an invocation, followed by the obligatory pledge of allegiance. What proceeded to happen after the pledge caught me off guard; the attendees spontaneously broke out into "God Bless America." Sadly it had been so long since I had heard that song that I almost forgot the words. It was incredibly touching to witness those giants of patriotism professing their deep love and devotion to an idea that has seemingly subsided from our culture. Their voices quivered with pride and feeling behind the verse "my home, sweet home." It was a pride few Americans have ever known. It came from men and women who knew a deep yearning for home, as only those who have sacrificed can know. Men who were forged in the fires of a Great Depression, who were further hardened by fighting the worst of what mankind is capable of. Women who stayed behind and did the work of a nation. Back then, there were no tours of duty like we have today. Our boys went to fight a war until either the job was done, or they were dead. They were there for the duration. Approximately 16 million Americans participated in World War II, well over 400,000 never came home.
Most Americans today don't know the meaning of that type of sacrifice. We have no sense of struggle. We take for granted what our predecessors have built for us. For the rest of the world, politics is a matter of life and death. Here it is merely a byword, a topic to be avoided in polite conversation. Only 56 percent of eligible voters cast their ballot in the 2008 presidential election; a vote that was touted to be one of the most important elections in modern times. Mid-term election turnout fares much worse; only 37 percent decided to participate in 2010. While much of the world is ruled by dictators and despots, a large portion of Americans cannot be bothered to choose who rules them.
Today, voting Americans have been conveniently packaged into three major camps: the Democrats, the Republicans and the coveted Independents. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney caught a lot of flack recently for pointing out that his strategy is to focus on the independents rather than trying to woo voters who have set up tents in the Democrat's camp. The pundits pontificated that Romney was callously writing off half of the country. In reality though, the political landscape in 2012 is shaped and defined by two very different narratives. It's as though Republicans and Democrats no longer speak the same language. As a candidate, if you don't hit the right talking points, you may as well try to carry on a conversation with a lamp. People tune out unless you can connect in a 10-second soundbyte. Pundits talk past each other in meaningless debate laced with "gotcha" zingers that are usually nothing more than half truths. The mainstream media, the supposed watchdog, the so called Fourth Estate, does nothing but deepen the divides.
Two-party systems tend to work best when there is little difference dividing the candidates. Diversity is great, as long as there is something that binds people together at the most basic level. There has to be something to come back to once disagreements hatch and boiling points are reached. Historically that thing that has bound us together and given us a sense of "nation" has been a respect for the Constitution. Anymore, even the validity of that covenant is questioned. As the two options diverge, a voter's choice actually diminishes. People aren't going to vote for someone who doesn't, at least, pretend to share their values, even if the only consistent thing about their party's record is broken promises. Republicans know their constituents are not going to vote for Democrats, and vice versa. As the gap between ideology widens, it eventually reaches a point where the electorate are essentially held hostage. Once the electorate is properly divided, those in power can do as they please. At that point government is no longer representative. This scenario is exacerbated when the majority of people aren't paying attention. America's new culture of convenience is dangerous to its liberty. Today's average American wants someone else to do everything for them. We outsource our decision making to candidates who we no longer vet, and expect them to act with our best interests in mind. Tyranny is a byproduct of apathy. This year's Republican and Democratic conventions, combined, were watched by less than one percent of the population, despite the fact that 99 percent of U.S. households own a TV. Astoundingly, "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" and the Cowboys versus Giants generated twice that viewership. We have traded self reliance for entertainment and wonder why the country is in the shape it is in.
This is not what America was founded on. This is not what made us the greatest nation in the history of the world. And this is not a recipe for continued success. So what's the solution? We must teach the next generation about what it is that has bound us together for 236 years. We must teach civics, responsibility and personal accountability. We need to dismiss this nonsense that it's okay not to pledge allegiance and that God has no place in our society. We must bring back patriotism, and it should not be party specific. Most of all, Americans would be wise to follow Mark Twain's advice: “Politicians are like diapers; they need to be changed often and for the same reason.”