It was to be the year of change, of new ideas, a new politics.
Yet, as of today, it appears the Republican Party will be led into the future by a Beltway favorite of the media and Washington insider who has spent the last quarter of a century on Capitol Hill.
And the Democratic Party appears about to build a bridge to the past by nominating the spouse of the last Democratic president who has herself been a Washington insider for almost 20 years.
With two-thirds of the nation saying the country is on the wrong course, the two parties are offering candidates both of whom played major roles in setting that course. And neither probable nominee has advanced ideas to deal with the crises America faces, nor even shown any great awareness that the country is in crisis.
The first crisis is fiscal, with the Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid costs about to break the bank as the baby boomers reach early retirement. Add the other entitlement programs, defense and interest on the debt, and this consumes perhaps 90 percent of the budget.
No one is proposing cuts in any major component of the budget. Indeed, Mrs. Clinton is promising universal health care and McCain is promising an expansion of the military. Both favor a stimulus package of roughly $150 billion. As our savings rate is about zero, where are we going to borrow the money for all this?
A second crisis is financial. With the economy in danger of seizing up, the Fed has cut interest rates from 4.25 percent to 3 percent in two weeks. This has sent the dollar plunging again. A sinking dollar means surging prices for oil and all those foreign manufactures to which we are now addicted.
As the dollars pour out, nations have started to spend their dollar hoards to buy up this country at the fire-sale prices being offered in the global marketplace.
A third crisis is strategic. With an army of half a million and a Marine Corps a third that size, we are ending our fifth year of war in Iraq and entering the seventh year in Afghanistan. With the Taliban and al-Qaida now re-established and threatening Pakistan, what will it require in blood and treasure to prevent a strategic disaster there?
Mrs. Clinton is committed to a withdrawal from Iraq, but McCain says we will stay 100 years if necessary and warns, “There’s going to be other wars.” But wars against whom? Iran? Pakistan? Russia? North Korea? With the U.S. military stretched to the breaking point, and the quality of army recruits falling, who will fight these wars?
Then there is the immigration crisis. It is estimated that there are 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens in the United States today, with many hundreds of thousands being added each year.
McCain and Hillary both voted for the amnesty bill, neither is committed to sending back the illegals, and both give only grudging support to the idea of a border fence. How do they propose stopping the scores or hundreds of millions from Latin America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East from breaking into the United States in coming decades? Does anyone see in either Clinton or McCain the resolve to deal with what Americans are coming to believe is a crisis of national identity and national survival?
Then there is the crisis of the American middle class.
As economist Robert Reich writes, the real wages of working men have not risen in 30 years. Families maintained their standard of living three ways. Wives went to work. The men began to work longer hours than in almost any other developed nation. The family’s equity in its home was then borrowed to sustain consumption.
Now, with the middle class tapped out, the home equity used up or declining, and mortgage, auto and credit card debt turning rotten, the U.S. government is going abroad to borrow 1 percent of GDP to hand out in checks in May to get consumers buying again to prevent a recession.
What kind of long-term solution is this?
How can a government as deep in debt as this one, going deeper every day, with the Social Security-Medicare crisis looming, continue to borrow to fight wars, finance foreign aid and defend nations that refuse to make the sacrifices to defend themselves?
America today faces both a fiscal crisis and a currency crisis.
Our dependence on foreign loans, foreign oil and foreign manufacturers is unprecedented.
We are being invaded from the south and seemingly lack the moral fiber to defend our home and throw out the intruders.
We have neither the men nor the weapons to honor all the treaty commitments and war guarantees we have given out to nations all over the world — and McCain plans to add several more.
Yet, we are consumed with the issue of whether Bill Clinton, by comparing Barack Obama to Jesse Jackson, was playing “the race card.”
We are an unserious people in a serious time.