The Election of a Lifetime
In that this will be my last column before the presidential
election, there will be no sarcasm, no attempts at witty repartee.
The topic is too serious, and the stakes are too high.
This November we will vote in the only election during our lifetime
that will truly matter. Because America is at a once-in-a-generation
crossroads, more than an election hangs in the balance. Down one
path lies retreat, abdication and a reign of ambivalence.
Down the other lies a nation that is aware of its past and accepts
the daunting obligation its future demands. If we choose poorly,
the consequences will echo through the next 50 years of history.
If we, in a spasm of frustration, turn out the current occupant
of the White House, the message to the world and ourselves will
be two-fold. First, we will reject the notion that America can
do big things. Once a nation that tamed a frontier, stood down
the Nazis and stood upon the moon, we will announce to the world
that bringing democracy to the Middle East is too big of a task
for us. But more significantly, we will signal to future presidents
that as voters, we are unwilling to tackle difficult challenges,
preferring caution to boldness, embracing the mediocrity that
has characterized other civilizations.
The defeat of President Bush will send a chilling message to
future presidents who may need to make difficult, yet unpopular
decisions. America has always been a nation that rises to the
demands of history regardless of the costs or appeal. If we turn
away from that legacy, we turn away from whom we are.
Second, we inform every terrorist organization on the globe that
the lesson of Somalia was well-learned. In Somalia we showed terrorists
that you don't need to defeat America on the battlefield when
you can defeat them in the newsroom. They learned that a wounded
America can become a defeated America. Twenty-four-hour news stations
and daily tracing polls will do the heavy lifting, turning a cut
into a fatal blow. Except that Iraq is Somalia times 10. The election
of John Kerry will serve notice to every terrorist in every cave
that the soft underbelly of American power is the timidity of
American voters. Terrorists will know that a steady stream of
grisly photos for CNN is all you need to break the will of the
American people. Our own self-doubt will take it from there. Bin
Laden will recognize that he can topple any American administration
without setting foot on the homeland.
It is said that America's W.W.II generation is its 'greatest
generation'. But my greatest fear is that it will become known
as America's 'last generation.' Born in the bleakness of the Great
depression and hardened in the fire of W.W. II, they may be the
last American generation that understands the meaning of duty,
honor and sacrifice. It is difficult to admit, but I know these
terms are spoken with only hollow detachment by many (but not
all) in my generation. Too many citizens today mistake 'living
in America' as 'being an American.' But America has always been
more of an idea than a place. When you sign on, you do more than
buy real estate. You accept a set of values and responsibilities.
This November, my generation, which has been absent too long,
must grasp the obligation that comes with being an American, or
fade into the oblivion they may deserve. I believe that 100 years
from now historians will look back at the election of 2004 and
see it as the decisive election of our century. Depending on the
outcome, they will describe it as the moment America joined the
ranks of ordinary nations; or they will describe it as the moment
the prodigal sons and daughters of the greatest generation accepted
their burden as caretakers of the City on the Hill."