Politics & Prejudices
Ask the right questions
Can both sides of the aisle focus on the bigger picture?
Published: December 14, 2011
Get real. How are you going to solve this? Lay off a few workers so you can stagger through to July?
What kind of society do we want?
Nobody wants to be told to go read a book, but I am about to tell you just that. Tony Judt was one of the modern age's most brilliant thinkers, a baby boomer and a British-born historian who tragically died of Lou Gehrig's disease last year.
He lived long enough, however, to finish an amazing short book about our condition today: Ill Fares the Land (Penguin Press, 2010). He shows how we got in this mess, through ideology, selfishness and a refusal to learn from the past. Like George Orwell, he started out as a left-winger.
But he went on to expose and skewer the errors of the left as well as the right. Struggling to finish this book when he was dying, he asks us to realize that we can build a better society.
However, we have to realize that we are all in this together, that we've wasted more than enough time and blood and destroyed lives on selfishness and crazy utopian schemes.
Six months before Barack Obama was born, a president of the United States told America that "if a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich."
That was John F. Kennedy, who continues to fascinate even though he has now been dead longer than he was alive. Currently, a new biography by Chris Matthews is climbing up the best-seller lists. Why do we still care about him?
Because he, and his brother Bobby, challenged us to be better than we are, to believe America could do anything. He told us he was challenging us to do all sorts of things, not because they are easy but because they are hard, because they "will serve to organize the best of our energies and skills."
He also liked to say that any problem that was man-made can be solved by man. Tony Judt would have added, "if we are willing to pay the price." We've forgotten both things.
Yes, we can fix Detroit, and educate our kids. Not without sacrifice, but for a fraction of what it would cost us to fight another worthless war like Iraq.
What kind of society do we want? Hopefully, one where everybody has a shot at success. We can create that, if that's what we want badly enough. In fact, in the final analysis — what other choice do we have?
> Email Jack Lessenberry