Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Is America in decline or are her best days ahead?
We celebrate America’s 238th birthday this coming Friday — facing a sluggish economy, dysfunction at the highest levels of government, and numerous foreign policy challenges. Some say America is tired, weak and over the hill. Others say our challenges make us stronger than ever.
Is America in decline, or are her best days ahead?
Pignanelli: “There are no great limits to growth because there are no limits of human intelligence, imagination, and wonder.” — Ronald Reagan
To the humiliation of my teenage sons, I recently spoke at Career Day in their middle school. I besieged these fresh minds with my usual blather, but also added commentary regarding their prospects. They are confronting a deluge of educated experts, I warned them, who will scream that opportunities are shrinking for the next generation because the United States is doomed. The litanies of problems are so insurmountable that either a collapse or slow disintegration is inevitable. Apparently, millennials (and those younger) are fated to exist in a dystopian society. I offered these youngsters, and other audiences suffering from my tirade, an articulate, erudite response to these dire predictions — “They are crap!”
The best of times are still ahead for Americans. Those who disagree ignore history and forsake our unique culture.
When my optimism is challenged by conservative friends, I channel Reagan (a sure attention getter) and spread the indisputable convictions that Americans are hard-working decent people who can overcome any obstacle. Since the birth of the republic, every generation has fretted about the future. Such worries are part of the American psyche, and always prove to be needless. All of our crushing problems can be remedied through a change in personal lifestyles and voting patterns.
Webb: No doubt, the good old U S of A is going through tough times, exacerbated by poor presidential leadership and a Congress that is hopelessly politicized, that ignores the nation’s biggest problems, and won’t make hard decisions.
But while these are difficult times, they certainly aren’t the nation’s hardest. The Civil War and the Great Depression were dramatically worse. Our national security was more threatened during the World War II and Cold War eras. The ’60s were far more rebellious and violent. We got through those rough times, and will get through these. And, by many measures, we are enjoying the best times in history.
Our problems are not insurmountable, but solving them will take vision, compromise and some willingness to sacrifice now for the good of our children and grandchildren. I continue to have faith that American citizens will support sound policies and correct principles — if they are well-informed and knowledgeable.
Some thought leaders are saying today’s gridlock and partisanship show America’s governance system no longer works in our complex society and should be replaced or dramatically reformed. Is the Constitution out-of-date?
Pignanelli: The United States Constitution is a magnificent, but imperfect, document that in its original form promoted slavery, denied female suffrage and offered vague protections to citizens. But the core beliefs behind the ink and paper, along with important amendments, guided Americans through our toughest challenges: Civil War, severe economic downturns, world wars, demands for equal rights and the Nixon administration. The Constitution has protected the American ideal while benefiting the entire planet. A dysfunctional Congress is hardly a reason to abandon a structure that serves this nation so well.
Webb: It’s true that the way we are being governed is badly flawed, but not because the Constitution is outdated. On the contrary, our system is dysfunctional precisely because we have strayed from the basic precepts of the Constitution.
The president, the Congress, and the federal bureaucracy are ineffective and gridlocked because they are trying to do too much, more than is practical or prudent, more than the framers of the Constitution intended. Our country is too big and too diverse to be micro-managed from Washington. Returning responsibilities and resources to state and local governments would allow the federal government to focus on its constitutional responsibilities and to be efficient and successful.
The problem with federalism is that we have allowed the far right to capture it as an ideological issue. Mainstream Americans need to take it back as a good-governance, problem-solving issue.
We don’t need a new government structure. We just need to use the one the founders gave us.
What can be done to revive America’s can-do attitude?
Pignanelli: Despite needless regulations and a lack of credit, America is rebounding from the Great Recession. Shrinking the economic divide and restoring the American Dream can again be realized if budding entrepreneurs are allowed to flourish. Political extremists and over-intrusive bureaucrats must have greater faith in America and get out of the way.
Webb: So much is centralized in Washington, D.C., that many citizens and businesses don’t feel they control their own destinies. Almost every industry — energy development, financial services, telecommunications, agriculture and manufacturing — are controlled by Washington. And bloated government spawns crony capitalism, with the largest businesses and industries deploying armies of lobbyists to use government to protect their interests. Little guys hardly have a chance. Unleash America’s entrepreneurial spirit and watch us prosper!
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D’Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a state tax commissioner. Email: email@example.com
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