Former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill once said “all politics is local.” It was a sample statement that in time became axiomatic. One politician after another echoed the refrain. In fact, I cannot recall any public refutations.
For a time, logic suggested that this assertion is correct. In my judgment, however, that time has passed. If anything, politics is national.
The relationship between the government and the individual is complicated in large part because of mediating institutions — these private agencies of family, schools, churches, and associations.
These institutions in the aggregate are individually served to moderate a heavy and intrusive hand of federal authority.
Alexis de Tocqueville, writing about America in the 1840s described these institutions as part of the national character and national resiliency.
The difficulty with this characterization is that these moderating structures are in disarray.
Each is failing at its role eroding the barrier between government and the individual.
Family status is confused by the high rate of divorce, illegitimacy, and polyamory. The bonds that held family together are challenged by progressive notions of sexual union.
What a family is, how it is defined, is subject to a variety of interpretations. But one thing is clear — the family as a unit, together through a bond, is rapidly disappearing.
Empirical evidence is mounting that schools do not do their job. Students graduate from high school unprepared for a job or higher education. Most significantly, the principles on which this civilization is based are not transmitted.
Young people may love the freedom America allows but they know very little about “first principles” or why our form of liberty must be defended. Unanchored to my traditional belief, these citizens are subject to propagandizing and even the incremental loss of liberty.
Churches were once religious centers urging a belief in God. Some still perform this role. But many are social and political centers promoting social justice narrowly construed as political lobbying.
Sermons often deal with national issues rather than biblical propositions. The result is that churches have lost their legitimacy as moral arbiters.
They may represent some segment of the population, but cannot claim the role of transcendent interpreters of faith or morals.
Associations were once the bulwark of civil authority and pride. They did good deeds; they were the backbone of towns; they represented civic duty and a desire to help those in need.
Now, however, their numbers are dwindling. Those in attendance tend to be gray around the temples. Downtown associations are becoming uptown clubs.
Facing conditions of the kind described here it is hardly surprising that federal government influence is growing. Citizens are adrift searching for meaning in lives that cannot find comfort in traditional institutions.
The nanny state organized by President Obama and his advisers is a national outgrowth of mediating institutions in trouble. If there is a way out of this morass, it is through restoration.
Rebuilding schools as learning centers; families as units of cohesion; churches as moral centers and associations as the backbone of civic authority. It can be done, but it does mean weaning the citizenry from the test of national assistance.
After decades of feeding at the public troth, habits of mind have been inscribed. As I see it, the time has come to un-inscribe them. And it is suitable to do it as soon as possible.
Herbert London is president emeritus of Hudson Institute and author of the books "The Transformational Decade" (University Press of America) and "Decline and Revival in Higher Education" (Transaction Books). Read more reports from Herbert London — Click Here Now.
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