We're at an absurd intersection of national crises — financial, moral and mind-bending — which leave us all crying out for help or at least mutual comfort. George Washington, Martin Luther King and Knute Rockne — where are they when we need their wise counseling, inspirational guidance and words of encouragement? Where are their living counterparts who can say, "I cannot tell a lie," "I have a dream," and "Win one for the Gipper"? I see and hear none of their caliber today as we drift toward the waterfall.
What triggered this plea and petition for help were several side-by-side headlines in my local paper. "Financial guru Suze Orman tells grads 'One day at a time' ... and to persevere in the face of seemingly overwhelming debt." I translated the graduates' personal educational debt of thousands into our staggering national debt of trillions: "400 people in 18 counties tied to alleged pain pill ring." I thought about our national addictions to drugs, food and sports to sublimate personal pain. And an adjacent headline trumpeted, "Williston celebrates 'the good life' at rodeo."
Our "good life" is embedded within a web of debt, addiction, and escapism through sports, celebrity worship, and borrowing from the future — our future, our kids' and grandkids' future. I'm no psychotherapist, but I'm told that recognizing the reality of a problem is the first step in solving the problem. Denial is a seductive drug that's an indirect lie by evasion.
I'm told that tax avoidance is legal, tax evasion illegal. But I watched hour after hour of congressional hearings in which two former directors of the IRS dodged, darted and denied. They evaded telling whatever truth they know about their own organization better than Emmitt Smith evaded tacklers on the football field. I respected and admired Emmitt's evasion. The IRS men? Not so much.
But we must get our hearts and our minds around something much deeper than Washington's dysfunctional problems that stretch far across both sides of the aisle. We need true moral leadership to "persevere in the face of seemingly overwhelming debt." Washington excels in spending the buck and passing the buck, a very bad combination. So who will say, "The buck stops here"?
I ask the moral leaders of this nation — ministers, rabbis, priests, principals, mayors, philosophers, teachers, editors, authors and others to stand up, stop denying, and exert the moral leadership and courage so sadly lacking elsewhere. I cannot tell a lie, I have a dream, win one for the Gipper.
I've recently written articles on terrorism and a sports spoof that trends are taking us to a 63-game college football season with three games per week. Absurd? Just think about where trends are taking us on the moral playing field of life in this country. Think about it and pray for leadership at local, state and national levels — starting with ourselves.
My plea comes from the heart of a grandfather—whose generation is greatly concerned for our country's future, even though we may get but a glimpse of it. If Paul Revere were riding today, he would be crying out, "The Americans are coming! The Americans are coming!"
His wake up call would be timely. Truth, dreams and victory can still come together for future generations if we demand better of ourselves and our government. Otherwise, greed will fill the vacuum.
James F. Burns is a retired University of Florida professor.
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