Nation, Heal Thyself

Andrew Bacevich

Andrew Bacevich

I watched Andrew Bacevich, author of The Limits of Power, on Bill Moyers Journal last night.  This was a rerun which first aired on August 15th.  Bacevich is a self-described conservative Republican, graduate of West Point, a Vietnam veteran who has since retired from the military as a colonel, possesses a Ph.D. from Princeton University in American Diplomatic History, and is currently on the faculty of Boston University.

Bacevich believes that what’s wrong with America is Americans themselves.  It is our unyielding desire to have more and more and more without ever paying for anything.  It is like a cancer eroding from within and if we are unable to get it under control, we will be destined for a difficult future.

Bacevich traces the beginning of our current problems to the 1960s and a rise in consumerism.  Then in the 1970s the world shifted.  Prior to the 70s, the United States set the global price of petroleum.  In 1972 domestic oil production peaked, OPEC was formed, and the United States no longer had control of oil prices.  Then in 1975, for the first time, America’s imports exceeded exports and it has continued to be that way ever since.

According to Bacevich, Americans faced a dilemma – we could either learn to live within our means and do with a bit less, or we could use our military power to encourage other countries to accommodate our ever increasing need for more.  We chose the latter.

At this point Jimmy Carter turned to the country seeking advice.  He spent 10 days at Camp David talking to average Americans as well as economists, small town mayors, spiritual leaders, business leaders and others.  Then on July 15, 1979, Jimmy Carter addressed the nation in a way that did not pander.  He clearly explained where the country had been, where it currently was, and where it was headed.  He offered leadership on our emerging energy crisis and was widely ridiculed by the right, which dubbed his speech, The Malaise Speech.  If you haven’t read it recently, I highly recommend you do so now. 

Along comes Ronald Reagan who does pander to Americans by telling us we need not listen to the naysayers, those who profess gloom and doom.  Reagan sold himself as a conservative, but he was anything but.  From an article published in The American Conservative on September 8, 2008, Bacevich goes on to say:

…[B]eguilinghis fellow citizens with talk of “morning in America,” Reagan added to America’s civic religion two crucial beliefs: credit has no limits, and the bills will never come due. Balance the books, pay as you go, save for a rainy day—Reagan’s abrogation of these ancient bits of folk wisdom did as much to recast America’s moral constitution as did sex, drugs, and rock and roll….

During his inaugural address Reagan said all the right things about getting our collective house in order.  He once again promised “to check and reverse the growth of government.”  But did he?

Um, no.  Again, from Bacevich’s article:

…[d]uring the Carter years, the federal deficit had averaged $54.5 billion annually. During the Reagan era, deficits skyrocketed, averaging $210.6 billion over the course of Reagan’s two terms. Federal spending nearly doubled, from $590.9 billion in 1980 to $1.14 trillion in 1989. The federal government did not shrink. It grew, the bureaucracy swelling by nearly 5 percent….

American profligacy during the 1980s had a powerful effect on foreign policy. On one hand, Reagan’s willingness to spend without limit helped bring the Cold War to a peaceful conclusion. On the other, American habits of conspicuous consumption drew the U.S. ever more deeply into the vortex of the Islamic world, saddling an increasingly debt-ridden and energy-dependent nation with commitments it could neither shed nor sustain….

So here we are today wondering how we ended up in this mess.  Go read the rest of Bacevich’s article or watch his interview with Bill Moyers.  Then honestly ask yourself what you truly think is the most important American value to hold near and dear to your heart.  Is it unfettered consumption, or is it freedom from global tyranny caused by borrowing from would-be rogue nations.

We hold the answer to that question in our spending habits.  Counting on our government to make those decisions for us is childish and unproductive.

 

 

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2 Responses to “Nation, Heal Thyself”

  1. I saw the Bacevich interview and found myself agreeing with most of what he said. If you haven’t already, you might enjoy Robert Bork’s 1996 book ‘Slouching Towards Gomorrah’. The few who have tried to sound the warning have always been ridiculed but are being proven absolutely correct today. It’s surprising how foolish this nation has become in such a short period of time.

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