Saturday, August 25, 2007

Heeding the call to serve

Boffo news, boys and girls.

You can still be a superpatriot without signing up to serve. As Mitten State native Mitt Romney recently opined, fighting terrorists is for suckers whose daddies can't afford to buy the presidency:

"The good news is, we have a volunteer Army and that's the way we're going to keep it. My sons are adults. They've chosen not to serve in the military in active duty, and I respect their decision in that regard. ... And one of the ways my sons are showing support for our nation is helping me get elected because they think I'd be a great president."

Romney's remark was a slap in the face to all who have served, from the Revolutionary War to the Iraq war.

To compare dodging roadside bombs and sniper fire to slapping some Romney '08 bumper stickers on Iowa pickups reveals the Republican's startlingly overblown sense of importance.

But the slick CEO's stream-of-consciousness raises broader questions about what Americans owe this country and each other.

Gone are the days of obligation, for good and ill. Men are no longer drafted, so the onus falls not just on active duty personnel, but National Guardsmen, as well.

Most families don't have anyone serving in this gory conflict without end — most notably those of our leaders in Washington. After Sept. 11, the vast majority of Americans weren't asked to "pay any price, bear any burden," as John F. Kennedy once implored.

And so we didn't.

Maybe that's why we barely batted an eye when self-serving politicians used the attacks as an excuse to plunder American ideals, listening in on our phone calls here and torturing prisoners abroad. We knew we were getting off easy.

If that's the goal, then we've plunged into a full-blown, national identity crisis.It couldn't come at a worse time. We face the staggering problem of global terrorism in a nuclear age, battling enemies we don't understand and have made little attempt to. Meanwhile, the gulf between rich and poor is swelling, health care costs are skyrocketing, our deficit is out of control and there's a dearth in educated workers.

We can't afford for our national ethos to morph into life, liberty and the inalienable right to watch "American Idol."

We need the best and the brightest to step up and tackle these unprecedented challenges. That's what America has always been about, since the days of Washington, Paine and Jefferson.

Too many of us don't bother. And we don't trust the feds, the state or charities to solve these problems, either. God knows, they'll just waste our money.

Of course, it just happens to be career politicians who say government is the problem, not the solution. And it's corner-office executives insisting business can solve everything, as they're raiding your pension fund.

We seem to be cynically resolved that the world is hopelessly screwed up and there's nothing we can do about it.

Well, buck up, boys and girls.It's time to get beyond the circular logic and ask ourselves: Who are we? What do we believe in? What do we want this country to be?

Those are the fundamental questions of our time.I, for one, don't want to live in a country where Mitt Romney's egocentric definition of service rules.

Gone may be the days when we felt obligated to sweep up the local church on Sunday or rake our neighbors' leaves. Many of us don't even know who's living next door to us, which is part of the problem. It's hard to feel like we're all in this together if everybody's scrambling to watch "Dancing with the Stars" alone in their living rooms.

But there is hope. Some 65 million Americans volunteer their time at senior centers, schools and soup kitchens. We gave a record-breaking $296 billion to charity last year. (The Romney boys' political charity work doesn't count, by the way.)

Writer Albert Camus believed man is defined by his actions. In that case, we Americans are a bit schizophrenic.

It's not too late to get back on the right track. But while we've been enjoying ourselves, it's grown later than we think.

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