The Age of Uncertainty

It seems like half of my friends are unemployed and the other half are stuck in jobs that don't match them, like ill-fitting suits. Maybe it has something to do with our age. Most of us are in our mid-30s, too old to work happily for peanuts at some crap-ass job, too young to stay put for a pension. (They still have those, don't they?)

We are desperate for change, desperate for guidance and vision and prospects and improvement. There's only one problem. We want the same amelioration in political life as we seek personally.

Why is that a problem? To state the obvious, if sobering, truth: What's good for America seems good for President Bush. If the war in Iraq is "contained," it increases the President's chances of re-election. If the economy blossoms rather than withers, the same is true. America is fundamentally a conservative country: conservative in the sense of conserving energy and reserving harsh judgment. Voting out a sitting President, even one with such an egregious track record on issues from the economy to the environment, strikes many Americans as somewhere between impossible and undesirable.

Progressives/left/liberals/you-name-it must move beyond the politics of opposition, where what's bad for America is good for the President's foes. We cannot rely on America's fortunes continuing to tank -- the up-tick in the economy proves that. There has to be a way to encourage and enjoy any improvement in America's fortunes while still building a base for change.

What if? That simple statement is one of the most powerful in the human imagination and in politics as well. If the left and America are to do well simultaneously, we must "what if" our way into a new vision of progress.

What if the President had listened to his own father, who wrote in his 1998 memoir A World Transformed:

Trying to eliminate Saddam...would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending him was probably impossible.... We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq.... there was no viable "exit strategy" we could see, violating another of our principles. Furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-Cold War world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations' mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land.
What if we could take back the hundreds of U.S. military and thousands of Iraqi civilian and billions of U.S. dollars we have expended thus far on an ill-advised war which has, as President George Bush the first wrote, "no viable `exit strategy'"? How powerful would America be then? How much global good will would we still have if we had not defied the international community? How much safer would we be if Muslim countries still perceived us as victims of an unwarranted attack who, nonetheless, were willing to work in conjunction with others, rather than unilaterally, to fight terrorism?

What if we had taken the over $100 billion we will spend on the Iraq war and applied that money to America's failing schools, or to the healthcare conundrum, or to shoring up Social Security? For working Americans my age, healthcare is the most critical of these issues. People who work as full-time "permalancers," getting no benefits, must either pay exorbitant amounts of money out of pocket or hope, without insurance, not to get sick or get hit by a bus.

As the National Academy of Sciences stated in a report, "The health care delivery system is incapable of meeting the present, let alone the future, needs of the American people.... The cost of private health insurance is increasing at an annual rate in excess of 12 percent. Individuals are paying more out of pocket and receiving fewer benefits. One in seven Americans is uninsured, and the number of uninsured is on the rise."

What if this were no longer an issue? What if we had fought and won the war to keep America healthy instead of becoming embroiled in an international quagmire?

This is only one example of the road not taken, the good America could have leveraged in the past three years. What's good for America is good for the President only if we forget what could have been. America could have been, as it was in the 1990s, promising and prosperous. No, nothing would or will be the same after the attacks of September 11. But the choices our government has made along the way have only led us deeper into the age of uncertainty, and further from the path of security.

Farai Chideya is the founder of Pop and Politics.

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