Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014 | 2:01 a.m.
The State of our Union is in a temporarily bad state. Ask anybody.
The answers you may get will be frustratingly unsatisfactory — nobody wants to take the blame for the mess in which we find ourselves.
Simply put, we have big problems to solve in this country — job growth, immigration reform, tax reform, budget balancing, debt reduction, a shrinking middle class, a public education system that continually loses ground to our international competitors, escalating gun violence that is low on the list of the public’s priorities, and health care reform that needs fixing. Nothing continues to get done, and no one seems to be willing to step up.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t political leaders who want to do something about all these big problems, it just means that there aren’t enough people with common sense in the same room at the same time to get anything done.
Two events this past week allow us to focus on what ails us. The first is President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech Tuesday. I thought his speech was a good one because it discussed what I believe are some of our shortcomings and how he is going to try to fix them. Granted, there are people who don’t agree with the president and, therefore, don’t agree with me.
I get that and have no problem with those who disagree. Where I have a problem is with the disagreeable nature of so many of those who don’t share the same philosophy as our president and who choose to follow former first lady Nancy Reagan’s admonition by “just saying no.” The difference, however, is that Mrs. Reagan was encouraging us to say no to the kind of drugs that cause us to live in altered states. Today’s just-say-no crowd wants us to live in its own state of altered reality, a reality that has little bearing on the real world.
The second event this past week that illuminates the challenge we have happened right here in the Silver State. Former Nevada Lt. Gov. Sue Wagner quit the Republican Party.
As someone who committed the same act of citizenship six years earlier, I know exactly what she was thinking and the point she was making. My leaving the political party of Abraham Lincoln, which I joined as soon as I could vote, was not nearly as telling as Sue’s was last week.
That is because she’s been the epitome of a good and honorable Republican from Northern Nevada for as long as she has lived in this state. She has also been a good and honorable Nevadan during that time, which means that she supported what was good for the state and its people and opposed what wasn’t — even if her political party said otherwise.
Where Sue got crosswise with the GOP was in its hypocrisy. A party that insists on smaller, less intrusive government is now insisting that the same government intrude on the most intimate and personal aspects of our individual lives. A party that professes to be conservative — that is, one that believes in the Constitution of the United States — is required by its patrons to abandon concepts including individual freedom, responsible stewardship of the public’s resources and a commitment to science and other fact-based reasoning.
So, she quit. Just like millions of others have quit or been thrown out through the ever-narrowing opening of a smaller and smaller Republican tent.
And that brings me back to Obama’s State of the Union address. Clearly, there was frustration. It was apparent to everyone as the president repeated his goals from years before, goals that have not been achieved, most of which have not even been attempted because there is no comity in Congress and no ability for those of goodwill to come together, even on those issues on which they agree.
Just like the middle class in our country is shrinking — a dangerous sign for those who believe in our democracy — so, too, is the group of our country’s thought leaders in the middle who are being pushed aside in favor of the extremes of both parties. That is why nothing will get done, and that is why people are angry.
In the end, though, we have no one to blame but ourselves. This is our government, of, by and for the people. So when we allow, even encourage, good and decent people like Sue Wagner to throw up her hands in frustration because she can’t recognize the political party to which she gave her heart and soul; when we hear our president say if he can’t get Congress to act in the public’s best interests he will go it alone, knowing full well that he can’t do much by himself; and when we all know that by allowing our country to wallow in political dysfunction, we are condemning our future to mediocrity; when we do all this or, frankly, refuse to do anything, we are getting what we deserve.
The good news is that this is just temporary. As the famous quote, typically attributed to Sir Winston Churchill, says: “The Americans will always do the right thing after they have exhausted all of the alternatives.”
Now would be a good time to get it right.
Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.