Our national charter begins with three important words -- "We the People." These words were on my mind on Independence Day as I toured Berlin, a city where the echoes of history surround you. It is a history of America at its best, in which American military and economic might brought a mighty nation to its knees --only to then rescue it from a Soviet blockade with a remarkable airlift that brought more traffic to Berlin than handled today by any airport in the world.
While the ghosts of fascism and communism are never far away, Berlin today is booming and Germans are confident and proud. In contrast, a recent Rasmussen poll showed that a plurality of Americans believe that our best days are behind us -- something that would seem unthinkable to what we have called our "Greatest Generation."
These are different times and it seems that the notion of "We the People" is over. Unlike World War II, where citizen and soldier each were vital to the war effort, in the last decade we have fought our two longest wars yet no sacrifice was ever asked of the citizens. Far from it in fact, as we cut taxes during wartime for the first time in our history.
Welcome to the age of "Us the People" in which the interests of select groups trump the interest of the greater good. In pursuit of the Republicans' stated top priority of making President Obama a one-term president, Congressional Republicans have opposed initiatives such as a payroll tax break, cap and trade and an individual mandate for health insurance all of which they once supported.
Republican governors have cut spending and laid-off government workers making their states a drag on the recovery with GDP growth at half of the national average. Now they are opting out of Obamacare's Medicaid expansion even though it is 93 percent paid for by the Federal Government and would save states millions in costs relating to uninsured care. Even worse, they are also implementing voter suppression measures despite any evidence of voter fraud in order to ensure that only "us" and not "we" are at the polls in November.
Then there is Mitt Romney, the perfect candidate for "Us the People" as he hides his money in overseas tax shelters and Swiss bank accounts since "only the little people" pay taxes after all. That such a person could be elevated as nominee of a party reflects the fact that today sacrifice is a dirty word.
Consider for a moment the fact that, during World War II, Ford and General Motors converted their factories to military production to help with the war effort. This would be anathema to Romney and his fellow vulture capitalists at Bain who purchased American businesses, sold off their assets and then shipped jobs overseas.
Romney survived a GOP nomination process that clearly defined who was not included in the Republican definition of "Us" -- African and Hispanic Americans, Muslims, gays, women and the poor. Romney's economic proposal contemplates more tax cuts and other benefits for "Us" with the cost and burden to be borne by the poor and others not fortunate enough to be "Us."
World War II had a unifying effect long after Japan's surrender on the USS Missouri. I recall former Democratic Senator George McGovern talking about teaming with Republican Bob Dole on child nutrition issues. He explained while many viewed the two men by their respective partisan labels, they saw each other as fellow veterans and heroes.
In contrast, today you have Tea Party Congressman Joe Walsh questioning the valor of his Democratic opponent Tammy Duckworth, a double amputee veteran of the Iraq War.
Republicans refer to Democratic Presidents Clinton and Obama as "your president" or "not my president" and reject compromise. It is ironic that the party that obsesses over including the term "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, could ignore the rest of the language about being "one nation" "indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
The salient question in this upcoming election is whether we are to move forward as one nation as "We the People" or instead as the collection of tribes the GOP includes in "Us the People." The longer we indulge the perfidious tribalism of "Us the People," we risk allowing its seeds of disunity to take root and ultimately yield a bitter harvest of decline. But when we act as "We the People" there is nothing we cannot do and I am certain that as one nation our best days lay ahead of us.