The near calamity on Christmas Day capped a year – a decade – when the ability of our government to protect its people was tested and, when it counted most, failed.
As Maureen Dowd at the New York Times put it: “If we can’t catch a Nigerian with a powerful explosive powder in his oddly feminine-looking underpants and a syringe full of acid, a man whose own father had alerted the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, a traveler whose ticket was paid for in cash and who didn’t check bags, whose visa renewal had been denied by the British, who had studied Arabic in Al Qaeda sanctuary Yemen, whose name was on a counterterrorism watch list, who can we catch?”
To that, I add: “If our elected representatives can’t overcome the Money Industry’s lobbyists and legislate a ban on speculation in derivatives, enact a cap on credit card interest rates and regulate the rating agencies after these evil-doers trashed our economy and after Congress saved them from bankruptcy by giving them trillions of taxpayer dollars, what can they do?”
Then there is health care reform, a seven decades-long fight for fairness and financial security that has ended up in an unprecedented gift to the very companies that are responsible for our ridiculously expensive and cruel system. “Congress is effectively making private insurers unnecessary, yet continuing to insist that we can’t do without them,” the New Yorker points out.
From any viewpoint, liberal or conservative, our government’s record over the last ten years is dismaying and alarming. First came 9/11, when the religious ideologues attacked our nation and we turned out to be defenseless against a bunch of amateurs even though the Pentagon, the intelligence agencies and the White House knew a catastrophic assault was in the works. It is an outrage that despite hundreds of trillions of taxpayer dollars spent on defense and weaponry, there were only a handful of fighter jets available to protect our homeland that day, and they were too late. Next came the free market ideologues who brought us the Mini-Depression of 2009 (We’re supposed to pretend it was a recession and that it’s over but it wasn’t and it ain’t). There were plenty of warnings about the inevitable collapse of the Speculation Economy, but Congress, the White House and federal regulators all looked the other way.
What has been accomplished by the government’s efforts to protect us against foes foreign and domestic? After an almost unfathomably large expenditure of public resources by the government, not to mention considerable pain and suffering for the public, we seem to be right back to square one.
Which is of course why so many Americans have given up on health care reform.
The stakes are great for the Republic: once Americans lose confidence in government, Democracy itself is in danger. Restoring their trust will be the preeminent challenge of the next decade, which starts today.