The race for the 2008 Presidential election is off on a premature start, and the results are already being polled by the most respected polling firms. The promises are being rolled out by the truckload, the platforms are being polished and set up for viewing with the utmost fanfare and hooplah. None of this really makes any difference in the long term view, however. We all know that promises will be broken and platforms forgotten with the Inaugural Address.
The United States of America has been hurtling down a damaging track for the last twenty years at least, and in the last decade we decided to throw out the handbrake and barrel full tilt into the horizon with blind faith as to our eventual destination. How did this happen?
Americans were sold a dream, a vision, which promised prosperity for all our citizens, a secure place at the top of the global food chain, and complete impunity from anyone foolish enough to oppose us. The foundation work for this vision could be argued to stretch as far back as the Revolutionary War, was strengthened through our triumph (and economic turn-around) in World War II, and was tested on the world stage through the 1970’s and ’80’s. The real, public marketing campaign, however, began in 1998, with an open letter sent to President Bill Clinton signed by members of the Project for the New American Century, which advocated:
- The removal of Saddam Hussein and his minions from power, using military force, in order to ensure that Iraq could not have weapons of mass destruction.
- That the United States not allow itself to be “crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council”.
In their Statement of Principles, which was written in 1997, PNAC lists four “consequences” of the lessons of recent history:
- we need to increase defense spending significantly if we are to carry out our global
responsibilities today and modernize our armed forces for the future;
- we need to strengthen our ties to democratic allies and to challenge regimes hostile to our interests and values;
- we need to promote the cause of political and economic freedom abroad;
- we need to accept responsibility for America’s unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles.
These, then, are the foundation stones for the vision PNAC has given The United States. Lacking any cohesive alternative, this is the vision we have pursued. Yet despite our fevered attempts, the PNAC vision is not working out quite as planned. Perhaps, we have simply not given it enough time. A few more decades, a few more wars, and America’s role as supreme force in the world will be secured, with all Americans healthy, wealthy, and wise. Only a few facts stand in the way of this evaluation.
While we have been hammering away in an attempt to challenge hostile regimes, we have found that it alienates our democratic allies. While we promote the cause of political and economic freedom abroad, we are struggling with domestic economic issues and have reason to question our own political freedom. In short, while trying to shape the world in our image, we have found that perhaps our image is flawed and that those failings translate quickly to the other nations we try to “save”. This is a trend which will continue as long as we continue to pursue a fundamentally flawed vision.
What is needed, then, more than specific promises and myopic principles, is a new vision for America. We must evaluate our candidates for the Presidency not just on their reactions to various immediate issues, but also (and perhaps primarily) on their capability to envision a future America which will better serve our needs and desires. What role should we seek for our country on the global stage? How can we provide the necessary tools for happiness and opportunity to a nation of 298,444,215 (and growing)? We must demand a President who can think both broadly and deeply, a candidate who comprehends both history and current events and can place them in a context for the future. The vision provided us must be both appealing and practical.
After a recent article in which I attempted to find “dirt” on Presidential hopeful Barak Obama, I promised that I would follow up with an article enumerating his positive traits. This I intend to do, but in the context of an evaluation of his vision. I will then proceed through all the Presidential candidates in turn, examining their past actions and the vision they are presenting the American people. We must decide what compromises are reasonable in our more immediate concerns, in order to bring about a vision which will eventually serve us all.
An effective vision must answer the broad, sweeping questions about our future (“What role will the United States play on the global stage?”), but it must answer them in a way which makes it possible to see clearly how it will directly affect our concerns about specific, easy to visualize issues, if it is to be accepted by the majority of the American people. The question of how America will interact with the rest of the world, for example, must hold within its answer a clear picture of how we will end the war in Iraq. How we will become a happier and more prosperous nation must directly demonstrate how we will tackle poverty in our own borders, a lack of affordable healthcare, and millions of functionally illiterate citizens.
This is no small feat, in itself. Beyond the actual structure of the vision, though, it must be delivered by a candidate who can convey personal conviction, and a personal history to back up that conviction. Practically speaking, the American public is used to effective marketing, and evaluates the advertising campaign as much (if not more) as the product itself. Quite possibly no candidate yet running can successfully run this gauntlet. With two years yet to go to the election, however, it is not too late for them to realize the opportunity in front of them. With this election, they have the potential to lay the corner stones for deep change in United States policy. All they have to do is give us something in which to believe.