Now that we are weary of the "Best of 2008" programming, it is time to turn our attention toward the future. As I write, prognosticators and popular pundits are all making predictions and hedging their bets at the same time.
Instead of giving predictions, I offer possibilities. I recognize the potency of human choice and the permutations that flow from our decisions. Looking at history, have you ever imagined a world
* Where Hitler is accepted into Art School and becomes a successful part of the bohemian scene in the 1920s instead of the demonized dictator of a Nazi regime that results in over 50 million deaths?
* Where the Great Powers negotiate instead of mobilizing in 1914?
* Where Pope Pius XII speaks out loudly and specifically against the Holocaust of European Jews and calls on Catholics everywhere to resist this evil policy?
* Where The Palestinian Authority leaders unambiguously guarantee Israel's right to exist in secure borders and the PA and IDF begin joint operations to root our Hamas and Islamic Jihad?
OK, such are my counterfactual musings on a cold winter's night.
What about 2009? What are the possibilities ahead for the USA? Here is a sampling of possible futures, contingent on the choices of women and men in authority - AND the pressure applied by concerned citizens.
* If we finally agree that guns and butter cannot mix perfectly, let's cut domestic spending by 10%, make sure our military is effective and strategic (there is 15-20% that can be cut without a loss of effectiveness), and call on all Americans to produce more than they consume, we could have the greatest turnaround in economic history. Will this happen? Probably not. Too many politicians and robber barons want our populace on a new road to serfdom.
* If we construct Welcome Centers in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas and LEGALLY invite, assess, categorize and integrate our friends who want to be part of our land, we can end the fear and violence and reaffirm the rule of law. Will this happen? Well, the Democrats cry "justice" and want cheap votes and the Republicans cry "free markets" and want cheap labor. Another opportunity we will miss. Besides, we cannot allow US citizens to receive the same in-state tuition benefits that "undocumented" students receive, can we?
* What if millions of Americans call for economic and moral accountability from their elected officials? How about an end to secret sessions, back-door deals and the violations of human and property rights by petty dictators? How about balanced budgets, clear communication, the end of union aggrandizement and corporate rapaciousness? Can this happen? YES! Many voices raised in unity DO make a difference. Countless ordinary neighborhoods are transformed as block-by-block people unite against gang violence, corporate redlining and hopelessness. Imagine hundreds of informed and passionate citizens insisting on an end to both egregious eminent domain policies and the payola schemes of developers!
* What if We insist on private-public partnerships to rebuild infrastructure? There is so much to be done and we need the creative genius of the academy and business and the proper oversight of government to coalesce. Bridges, roads, tunnels, wildlife preserves, sensitive habitats, urban renewal - all need attention. Here is a novel thought - let's stop looking to Washington, D.C. for every solution and re-empower local and state authorities and citizens.
It is too simplistic to say, "let the market run itself." Even Adam Smith, the author of The Wealth of Nations in 1776 and the intellectual father of modern capitalism, spent a a large portion of his work affirming the private and public virtues necessary for free enterprise to flourish! Unrestricted capitalism is not a solution. It is also illusory to think that a collectivist-statist economic policy will work. Whatever the ideology or language, an over-controlled economy does not ensure long-term freedom and opportunity. The answer? Real government oversight of the ethics, policies and processes of corporations, but not government administration or micromanagement.
My real hope for 2009 is that all thoughtful people will take an honest look within and without and find the courage to face reality and work sacrificially to solve the consequences of our unbridled greed and selfishness. These problems are beyond the Left-Right shouting on cable television. The great Russian author and dissident, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, challenged his hearers at Harvard University: "The line between good and evil runs down the center of the human heart."