I'm still chewing on this one.
We are coming to the tail end of two wars. Troops have been largely brought home from Iraq, and we've got plans to bring troops home from Afghanistan.
We're slowly clawing our way out of the "Great Recession," the worst economic downturn since the depression of the 1930's. Recovery is slow, slow, slow.
We've had a president for the last four years who prides himself on his abilities as a rhetorician.
Currently we're coming down to the last hours of a presidential campaign in which both candidates have touted themselves as the clear choice, emphasizing over and over again that the country faces a critical choice between two divergent courses for the United States of America.
Here's the thing that troubles me in the middle of all this:
Nobody that I've heard -- and I listen pretty closely -- has appealed to the citizens of the USA for any form of self-sacrifice. I'm trying to remember, and I barely recall any appeal to US citizens even in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001.
Compare the appeals that went out to the citizens of the USA during World War Two. In the five years that war lasted, the nation sacrificed very intentionally. Men volunteered in droves to enter the military. Others were drafted and stepped up when their government called. Women rose up by the thousands to cover manufacturing and war industry jobs. Average citizens rationed rubber, sugar, and much, much more in order to give more to the war effort. Anyone who could afford to do so set aside money to buy war bonds that financed America's war effort. In other words, the American people carried the debt load of their country to pay for the war.
During the World War Two years, the government unashamedly asked every citizen to pitch in and do what they could to enable the tremendous drain of resources, personnel, supplies, and machinery that poured into Europe and the Pacific. The government, and willing citizens, created a culture in which self-sacrifice -- in the form of military service, long days at the factory, rationing booklets and stickers, lack of basic supplies, collections of peach and apricot pits, doing without new tires or nylons, and setting aside money for war bonds -- was expected of every citizen.
During two wars and a deep economic recession, no one has asked me to sacrifice anything.
Meanwhile, our country has become deeply indebted to China, who now holds the lion's share of our government debt.
Government bean-counters scramble and argue over what supplies soldiers in the Middle East need to properly do their jobs while pollsters measure the health of the economy back home by how much I'm willing to go into debt to buy Christmas presents.
What's wrong with this picture?
Have we forgotten so completely the idealistic lines immortalized by John Kennedy when he encouraged us to "ask not what your country can do for you; ask rather what you can do for your country"?
The more I think about this the more flabbergasted I am that neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney has tried during this presidential campaign to recruit the American people to give beyond themselves. Instead, we wring our hands over the decline of Medicare and Social Security, bicker about defense spending, and promise over and over and over again to make life better for the middle class.
Our culture has become more and more consumed with a desire to have it all, all for me. Maybe I'm an idealist myself, but I think that an appeal to the American people would sell, if it was directed toward the right goals. If a candidate stood up and said, "I ask the American people to buy government bonds. They have a guaranteed rate of return. It's only 1%, but that's about what you can get on a savings account these days. Invest for a minimum of ten years so that we can buy our debt back from the Chinese" -- if a candidate stood up and said that, I think the American people would step up in droves. I believe we're hardwired to desire a greater cause, a reason to sacrifice.
But no one's asking us to give anything.