The world seems a right mess! Ebola is wreaking havoc in West Africa. Spillover effects are more than likely to expand geographically, not lessen. The Islamic State threatens to control Iraq and Syria with a perverted ideology that in evilness approaches and may surpass the Nazis during World War II. And despite elections in America, the nation seems less, not more governable.
Why is that?
First, a political system of checks and balances invented by the best minds of the 18th century seems woefully inadequate in addressing the complex, complicated and very dangerous world of the 21st century.
Second, both political parties have become dominated by their extreme wings shutting out the center and strangling the prospect of compromise as neither side will agree on the most basic issues of tax and spend and the size of government.
Third, campaign financing has distorted the political system in a constant hunt for money. Politics are now about continuous campaigning to win election or re-election, discrediting the opposition as harshly as possible, and not for providing good governance.
Fourth, since George H. W. Bush's single term, Americans have not elected a president who had sufficient experience and qualification for the job when he entered office. Bill Clinton was incredibly fortunate. He inherited an economy that was about to take off and a world in which the existential threat posed by the Soviet Union had unexpectedly disappeared without a shot being fired in anger.
George W. Bush presided over two disastrous wars and plunged the nation into irresponsible levels of debt. Many argue that he has been the worst president certainly since the end of World War II. But Bush learned. By the time his second term was over, Bush had turned into a competent chief executive. Had he been allowed a third term, who knows whether he would have been re-elected.
Barack Obama brought into office great expectations and aspirations. But under his leadership, foreign policy has turned out badly if not calamitously. The U.S. withdrawal from Iraq was only partly his doing with former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki deserving the lion's share of blame. But withdrawal led to the creation of the Islamic State and the dire situation that threatens the region. And Afghanistan is on a knife-edge regarding its future as cohesive state.
Relations with Russia and Israel are in great trouble and may be worsening. The unfortunate rollout of the strategic pivot to Asia scared friends and allies and antagonized China unnecessarily making this a trifecta of setbacks. The abandonment of Egypt's strong man, Hosni Mubarak; the subsequent acceptance of the election of the radical Muslim Brotherhood; and finally inconsistency in accepting the Army takeover in desperation over President Mohammed Morsi's incompetence did little to foster confidence in Washington's policies or backbone. And of course this came well after drawing "red lines" in Syria over using chemical weapons and demanding Bashar al Assad must go.
At home, while the stock markets seem impervious to the economic news so far, disparities in wealth between upper and lower classes and the decline of the middle class are worrisome. While the jury is out on the Affordable Care Act, the way in which it was presented to the public was the epitome of incompetence. And Mr. Obama is being portrayed as aloof and distant from the demands of his office, rightly or wrongly.
Meanwhile, a blizzard of stories calling for wholesale replacement of his major cabinet secretaries and national security team give further evidence of a White House in dissarray and a government incapable of governing.
An equal co-conspirator in this failure is Congress. Gridlocked and broken, for the next two years this condition will not change barring some extraordinary crisis or crises that befalls the nation. That Congress is held in disrespect if not contempt by a majority of Americans is matched by the absence of leadership in both bodies. The leaders in the Senate and House are rightly pilloried for failure to lead and only late night television comics and hosts have benefitted from the pitiful performance of Congress.
It is easy to say that leadership is needed. But that is not going to happen, at least for the next two years. There is however one solution. And it comes from the Declaration of Independence: "When government becomes destructive, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it and establish a new one."
Revolution is obviously not an answer. But if the public does not demand and get good rather than destructive governance, the mess we have in Washington is our fault not theirs.