In rough week for U.S., Brokaw calls for ‘big ideas’

Tom West, West Words

In what turned out to be one of the worst weeks that our nation has had since 9/11, I made my way down to Collegeville Tuesday to hear former NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw. Brokaw gave the Eugene J. McCarthy Lecture on “Conscience and Courage in Public Life.”

Brokaw, 72, listed the “big ideas” that America has embraced in his lifetime, starting with the need to go to war to stop Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. He then listed the G.I. Bill, President Kennedy’s project to put a man on the moon, President Nixon’s decision to open relations with communist China, President Reagan’s skill in winning the Cold War with the Soviet Union, President George H.W. Bush’s decision to re-unify Germany, the genius of a group of nerds to develop the information technology industry, etc.

He expressed concern, shared by many Americans, over how dysfunctional the nation’s politics seem to be, calling the inability to find the next big ideas “a recipe for retreat.”

As I mentioned at the start, the U.S. didn’t have a good week, beginning with the killing of four foreign service officers, including the ambassador to Libya. From this distant outpost, that looks like more of what we have been suffering at the hands of Islamic radicals for the past 33 years.

The excuse for violence this time was that some American made a movie (that hardly anybody has seen) that the extremists claimed portrayed the Prophet Muhammad in a sacrilegious manner.

We Americans like to think we are more enlightened or tolerant, or perhaps jaded. Hollywood routinely portrays people of faith as ignorant, hypocritical and bigoted. The last time a significant number of Americans got upset over an attack on religion was when artist Andres Serrano photographed a crucifix in a jar of urine — and even then the main concern was that his work was subsidized with our tax dollars.

Four years ago, then candidate Barack Obama said some small-town Americans “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

That created a ripple for a few days, but not enough to keep him from being elected.

One gets the impression if someone living in Cairo or Teheran had expressed Obama’s sentiments but substituted “Islam” for “religion,” they would have burned down his home with him in it.

What’s unfortunate, we are told, is that the latest atrocity occurred in Libya, which just held its first election in 47 years July 7. The extremist Muslim Brotherhood finished a distant second. Ever since, the losers have been using violence to undermine the people’s will.

Egypt, on the other hand, has elected the Muslim Brotherhood to power, and some of its supporters breached the embassy walls and burned the U.S. flag. Only after Obama called Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi did Morsi say that attacks on foreign embassies will not be tolerated. He was a little late.

I’ve tried to understand the thinking of these radicals, but I just haven’t figured out what kind of society fights wars using suicide bombers as  its primary weapon. All I know is they want us dead.

I recall in 2008, many Obama supporters said that the United States was not loved by the rest of the world, thus calling for a fresh start on foreign policy. Then shortly, after being inaugurated, Obama apologized repeatedly for past U.S. actions.

He took some heat for that, and I wondered how much the world appreciated it. I’m all for apologizing in personal matters. A heartfelt apology can work miracles among family and friends. But in affairs of state, I don’t care so much about being loved; I just want the U.S. to be respected.

Then on Thursday, the Federal Reserve Board announced that it will start printing money again, adding $40 billion per month until the jobless rate starts to come down.

The stock market rallied, but this was bad news in the sense that it says everything done up to this point to get us out of the Great Recession hasn’t worked.

It was also bad news for those Americans who won’t be direct beneficiaries of that extra cash floating around. With farmland values starting to appreciate in the double digits, the price of gas creeping back to $4 per gallon and the price of food rising sharply, many Americans who are already squeezed will be feeling it even more. What are those on fixed incomes supposed to do with interest rates at rock bottom? Granny can’t get out of her rocker and go find a job.

I think the primary reason the recovery has been so slow is because Americans have lost confidence in the future. The Fed may be well-intentioned, but to pull us out of this economic funk, I go back to what Brokaw said. We need the next “big idea” — and we’ll never find it as long as Democrats and Republicans live in parallel universes.

Brokaw said he recently had been reading a biography by Michael Shelden of Winston Churchill entitled, “Young Titan.” Brokaw said, “(Churchill) believed there are some things government must do, not because government does them well, but because if government doesn’t do them, no one else will.”

Brokaw reminded the audience that in the upcoming election, we will not just be making a judgment about Barack Obama vs. Mitt Romney. He said, “We’re making a judgment about all of us..”

He concluded, “We have no greater obligation but to re-enlist as citizens.”

Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Record. He may be reached at (320) 632-2345 or by e-mail at [email protected].