A Central Washington political science professor says:
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 it's 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."
One thing I've noticed just in my immediate social circle is that those of who are voting for Bush tend to be those that have served their country, either in the military or in the U.S. Peace Corps. Those who never took that time out for their country perhaps feel differently about America.
We've seen the barbarians inside the gates. We've got a place to fight them — Iraq. And we've got a leader willing to fight it. And that leader faces a candidate who says the barbarians are a criminal problem, that we're not at war and who has a history of pacifism.
The choice could not be more clear. God tests the hearts of men. Each generation gets tested in his own way. For some, they are broken by their warlike tendencies. Some are sifted by their intolerance. Some are tested by their repression. These are not the flaws of our generation. Ours are the opposite of these tendencies — we are being tested to see if we will take a stand on anything, to see if we believe there is anything worth fighting for beyond our self-interest, and to see if we are still men and women enough to persevere in that fight.
A vote for Bush is a vote to persevere. A vote for Kerry is to break faith with past generations and live off the fruits of their labor, including, by the way, their religious capital. And our children, and their children, will suffer for it — even if they choose to restore the faith.
God, help us all to choose wisely.