Maybe a Catastrophe is What We Need

That which does not kill you, only makes you stronger

— Friedrich Nietzsche

Americans, who—for the last 30 years—were preoccupied with avarice and gluttony and unconcerned with the virtues of thrift and saving for a rainy day, are currently enduring a crisis of confidence. While blame for our collective economic misfortune has been cast around, both the previous and current administrations are culpable since their cure for over-indulgence has been a booster shot of debt spending. In the wake of 9/11 and with a recession looming, President Bush was asked what Americans could do. Rather than ask for sacrifice and service from an energized and united public, President Bush told them to go shopping. Eight years later, following a period of growing government and increased spending of borrowed money, the crash of the credit and housing markets created an economic crisis in which “bailouts” and “stimulus” have become four letter words. In an apparent effort to not let a good crisis go to waste, President Obama and a complicit Congress have authorized trillions of dollars of additional debt-spending in order to advance a radical liberal agenda. He could have used his promise of hope and change to encourage a willing constituency to learn from our tradition of gluttony and seek opportunities in which we could serve others rather than ourselves, to sacrifice for the good of the whole, and to unite America with a common purpose. Instead, President Obama used his political capital and popularity in a polarizing campaign of fear-mongering that threatens to incite class warfare as he seeks to redistribute wealth. While markedly different in scope and impact, the President unfortunately and inaccurately compares the current crisis with the Great Depression. Judging by the numbers though, it would seem the only cause for comparison is to exaggerate our current dilemma in order to enact spending measures otherwise unacceptable or unimaginable. Based on his apocalyptic rhetoric, President Obama must believe that these are desperate times that require even more desperate measures in order to stave off catastrophe; however, there is reason to believe that perhaps it is best if Americans are allowed to endure some sort of generational struggle.

The gem cannot be polished without friction nor man without trials.
— Confucius

Borne of a revolution against tyranny, subsequent generations of Americans have become familiar with struggle yet have triumphed time and time again. Within a generation of the revolution and the subsequent wars which forged our constitution and our nation’s borders, the Civil War threatened to tear them apart. That great ideological divide was followed by a reunion of purpose and ascension into the industrial age. Likewise, after the Great Depression and World War II and through much toil and fortitude, the heralded Greatest Generation of Americans rose up and propelled this country into economic and technological superiority unmatched around the world. For that, the current generation of Americans owes our most recent standard bearers an eternity of gratitude. Because, unlike the Greatest Generation, who personified service and sacrifice over struggle and adversity, this generation of Americans has grown up under a blanket of security that has rendered us unable to cope with even the slightest threat to our pampered existence. Let’s not ever forget that America’s story is one of triumph over adversity succeeded by long periods of unity and significant growth. That we are again faced with an opportunity to atone for the collective mishandling of the endeavor in Southeast Asia is indication that our creator still has hope in us as a nation.

There is no education like adversity.
— Disraeli

In the spirit of John F. Kennedy who set a course for the moon, President Obama told the American people in a joint session of Congress that his plan will—among other things—curb climate change, “double our renewable energy supply,” and “seek a cure for cancer in our time.” Taken independent of each other, it is undeniable that these goals are laudable and reachable in normal circumstances. Their achievement would undoubtedly catapult the United States into unparalleled greatness. Together though, and with consideration to our current dilemma, these goals reflect the same avarice of ambition—absent of introspection—that has contributed to the over-extension of our country’s dwindling resources. Unbounded by fiscal constraint or responsibility to future generations, no idea is a bad one and all spending on social ills have merit. However, faced with a crippling economic crisis in which the majority of our debt is held by our nearest military and technological competitor, it seems disingenuous to establish exorbitant goals without first addressing our current economic condition. If our current situation has taught us anything, we should have at least learned the hazards of biting off more than we can chew.

Included in the recovery plan and the ironically titled budget “A New Era of Responsibility,” President Obama proposes fantastic new and increased spending on entitlement programs like healthcare, welfare, unemployment, and education. While the initial spending has been tallied around the $3.6 trillion mark, many analysts predict that the final cost of these programs will double the national debt over the next four years and will likely lead to trillion dollar annual deficits for the next ten years. Nevertheless, President Obama believes that this investment into our country is necessary if we are to again achieve the greatness ascribed to our ancestors. Included in his address last Tuesday, President Obama offered this lofty goal, “we will provide the support necessary for all young Americans to complete college and meet a new goal: By 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.” Of course education is important and is certainly necessary for our citizenry to able to achieve the marks set by our President. Ironically though, it would seem that even education has failed to teach our leadership the lessons that perhaps adversity would.

Pain is weakness leaving the body

— Popular Marine Corps motto

Twenty years ago, in the desert south of Phoenix, the Bio-Dome was built in which scientists studied the possibility of creating a self-contained and self-sustaining environment. In the process, they quickly discovered that trees were unable to reach their full potential because they could not bear their own weight. Scientists had overlooked the importance of wind in the development of a tree’s strength. Without struggle, a tree could not develop strong roots and thus, could not bear fruit. Similarly, the moments in our life when we grow in character and develop focus of mission are usually preceded by periods of suffering or adversity (it’s cliché because it’s true). Unfortunately, America has a growing mindset that we shouldn’t allow any sort of struggle, challenge, or adversity. There’s a notion that kids shouldn’t have to fail a grade because it hurts their self-esteem. Or that every player on every team should get a trophy whether they win or lose so as not to discourage them from trying again. Now, our president seems dedicated to prevent any more Americans from enduring any struggle (rather, any more), but it just may be the remedy our country needs to remind us of just how fortunate we are. Of course Americans are still capable of greatness, it’s in our heritage, bestowed by those who have suffered and fought before us. However, as a nation, we are losing our ability to manage adversity and the more we attempt to prevent it from happening, the worse it’s going to be when all our best laid plans fail.

For added emphasis, below is the famous “Man in the Arena” portion of President Theodore Roosevelt’s “Citizenship in a Republic” speech which spells out, in detail, the responsibility Americans have to one another if we are to excel as a nation. Not apologetic for those who achieve great wealth through ambition nor ignorant of those who suffer in poverty through no cause of their own; Roosevelt’s speech condemns those—rich and poor alike, through greed or by sloth—who are burdens to their fellow man or who contribute nothing for the greater good. Rather, Roosevelt reveres those who “strive valiantly” yet “who errs…again and again.” Only then, can we truly know and come to appreciate the “triumph of high achievement.”

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.