We need citizens who will convey to their leaders that they are ready to sacrifice, even pay, yes, higher taxes, and will not punish politicians who ask them to do the hard things. Otherwise, folks, we’re in trouble. A great power that can only produce suboptimal responses to its biggest challenges will, in time, fade from being a great power...-NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman, laying down the gauntlet.
Alas, it will take an economic downturn of unfathomable proportions for U.S. voters to demand that their representatives make such hard choices (and even then a small but significant percentage of the American public would resist). For we only make the important decisions when we have to - as a last resort - and not a single second before hand.
Earlier in the piece, Friedman makes a strong point (numbers 2, 3, and 4 of which are quite important):
..at least six things have come together to fracture our public space and paralyze our ability to forge optimal solutions:
1) Money in politics has become so pervasive that lawmakers have to spend most of their time raising it, selling their souls to those who have it or defending themselves from the smallest interest groups with deep pockets that can trump the national interest.
2) The gerrymandering of political districts means politicians of each party can now choose their own voters and never have to appeal to the center.
3) The cable TV culture encourages shouting and segregating people into their own political echo chambers.
4) A permanent presidential campaign leaves little time for governing.
5) The Internet, which, at its best, provides a check on elites and establishments and opens the way for new voices and, which, at its worst provides a home for every extreme view and spawns digital lynch mobs from across the political spectrum that attack anyone who departs from their specific orthodoxy.
6) A U.S. business community that has become so globalized that it only comes to Washington to lobby for its own narrow interests; it rarely speaks out anymore in defense of national issues like health care, education and open markets.