Every now and then, New York Times columnist David Brooks hits the nail right on the head, as he did last week. Writing about the upcoming presidential election, he noted that “the two parties contesting this election are unusually pathetic. Their programs are unusually unimaginative. Their policies are unusually incommensurate to the problem at hand.”
Why? Because in Brooks’ words, “this election is about how to avert national decline.”
Those are tough words. Variations on those words have been uttered for decades, with varying degrees of accuracy. But this time, I think they’re true.
Unemployment has hovered steadily in the high single digits for more than two years, with no prospects for improvement. American commerce, education and efficiency, once the envy of the world, faces unprecedented competition from emerging Asian economies. A “stimulus” package designed to get the economy back on track blew the better part of a billion dollars on special-interest gimmes with very little to show for it, adding to an already preposterous level of national debt. And it’s abundantly obvious that social welfare programs are mathematically unsustainable.
Against this urgent backdrop, somehow the event that musters the most mental energy from the press and politicians is Congressman Anthony Weiner’s propensity to use social media to share lewd photos of himself. Good grief.
Serious times call for serious leadership. Voters have become inured to the terminally unserious agenda offered by both parties come election time. If anything, soaring rhetoric makes us suspicious, even frustrated. I’d rather hear a difficult truth awkwardly expressed than an easy lie woven into a seductive turn of phrase.
It’s early. Much can still happen in this election cycle. But so far, neither party is a match for the times. On the Democratic side, we know what we’ll get — President Obama won’t face a serious challenge. But on the Republican side, there’s still time for a different kind of candidate to step up. We need a Lincoln, a Reagan, to emerge from the shadows and provide the kind of leadership this country so desperately needs.
It’s not too late.
Rob Witwer is a former member of the Colorado House of Representatives and co-author of the book, “The Blueprint: How Democrats Won Colorado and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care.”