We recently had the opportunity to meet the 2012 class of the Youth Leadership Richmond County program chaired by Steven Kendrick, which introduces the best high school juniors to the area’s leaders and leadership. You’ve never seen such bright, poised, articulate, charming young men and women in your life.
There’s a light in their eyes that can’t be explained only in human terms. They plan on being engineers, teachers, and more. They love life. They love people. They sop up more around them than SpongeBob SquarePants. You can’t help wanting the world for them. Their futures are undoubtedly bright.
Undoubtedly – except for one thing.
The state of America.
It’s not just the temporary economy that’s the problem. The nation’s financial infrastructure is crumbling under the weight of the recession, certainly, but just as much if not more so from the massive burden of the $15 trillion-plus national debt and yearly deficits that show no signs of abating. The debt and its growing interest is crowding out other spending, and will lead to incomprehensible tax increases and cuts in services for decades.
All the while, retiring baby boomers – the biggest cohort in history to reach 65 – have begun retiring, and will have to be supported in their golden years by a smaller pool of workers, as Congress has emptied out the Social Security trust fund all along. Experts say the country has made $100 trillion or more in retirement promises that we can’t keep.
The nation’s physical infrastructure is bowing and breaking from the stress of age and neglect as well. You’re well familiar with our road, highway and airport challenges – but did you know that some 700 water mains are busting each day in America? The American Society of Civil Engineers gives the nation’s drinking water system a D-minus. A report by the American Water Works Association predicts a $1 trillion bill for replacement and repair of water lines in the next 25 years, and a doubling or tripling of monthly water bills.
We’ve also been sold a bill of goods that we don’t need manufacturing – that America can remain great, in essence, by merely pressing each other’s pants.
Socially, the breakdown in families, in churchgoing and in values and ethics does not bode well for the country. And as boomers are adding years, they’ve been adding pounds – along with their progeny – which can only burden an already teetering health-care system with obesity-related ailments.
And facing the most momentous elections of our lives this year, we’re nonetheless seeing anemic voter turn-outs in many cases. Richmond County Board of Elections Director Lynn Bailey expects a 25 percent turnout in the Super Tuesday primary this week. At best.
Surely we can do better for those promising young leaders. Surely we must.
First, we must demand more of our leaders.
Ben Bernanke – who, as Federal Reserve chairman, must measure every word for fear of creating a panic – flat-out told Congress this past week that the country is headed for a “massive fiscal cliff.”
Yet, it’s difficult to know what, if anything, can move the most negligent crop of leaders in our nation’s history. The U.S Senate, for instance, has simply chosen not to pass a federal budget for three years.
Second, we’ve got to work on ourselves.
We simply have to pay attention.
There are somewhat limited choices left in this primary season, starting this week with Super Tuesday – elections in 10 states, including Georgia. There are nine presidential candidates on the Republican ballot in Georgia, but of course the field has been narrowed to four leading candidates: Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul and the state’s own Newt Gingrich, who is leading in the Peach State polls.
In truth, though, this entire year is an election campaign – and, really, part of what is now an endless campaign season. We can’t afford to slumber through it, as drawn out and petty as it’s become. Because of everything that’s at stake – all the issues above, and more – this is the year we’ve all got to become political. We’ve got to decide what we believe and act on it. We’ve got to hold our leaders accountable for the state of the nation. And if they’re found to be lacking, they’ve got to be replaced – no matter how long they’ve been in office.
In short, citizenship must make a comeback in America.
It is our view that three things will be key to saving, restoring and reviving America: character, brotherhood and citizenship. If those made a rebound in American civic life and politics, everything else would take care of itself.
It won’t be easy. We’ve become comfortable and complacent in many ways. We’ve been entertained into a coma; it’s likely more people know the latest American Idol winner than who their elected leaders are. And a parade of interest groups, politicians and other assorted charlatans have convinced many of us that we can all get what we want all the time.
Ask yourself this: If you’re a member of a group or association, is it so that America will
be strengthened – or so that
your own hand will? The World War II generation joined clubs to further America’s aims; today, we join associations to further our own.
Worst of all, many of us seem content to trade in our freedoms for a bit of false security.
We are in danger of failing to leave the country better than we found it.
For the sakes of those bright, young future Richmond County leaders, and all our children, we’ve got to change course.