Ask Not

The question is: As the sun sets on the era of George W. Bush, which the American people deeply want to conclude, what comes next?

My proposal: the spirit and leadership in the tradition of JFK, not only in word, but in deed, asking not only what is easy, but what is hard.

When Congress returns, I hope to initiate a modest enterprise here on The Hill.

In the print edition I'll be writing a column with a panoramic view of the calls to action that JFK might issue were he with us today.

Meanwhile, over on the Pundits Blog, I'll simultaneously post a series of essays with the tentative title "Presidential Papers," with details about how the presidential candidates, Congress and K Street leaders might rally support by asking what we can do for our country and challenging people to do it.

This would be modeled after Norman Mailer's great writings about JFK, including Superman Comes to the Supermarket, which I highly recommend to all.

What is totally absent from insider Washington, the presidential campaign, and media coverage of national politics is a call to action, a call to patriotic contribution. The American people hunger and thirst to be asked; yet no one asks.

The two greatest industries here in Washington are these:

First, the money machine of lobbyists, political contributors and political fundraisers, which is an influence-peddling machine in which money buys government. The dividing line are actions that corrupt the system that are illegal, versus actions that corrupt the system that should be illegal. The American people are not even spectators, because the greatest influences are peddled behind closed doors.

Soon the FEC reports about Q-1 will be made public with the news that our system is awash with cash, that presidential campaigns are now obscenely expensive, and that Democrats are doing quite well with traditional Republican business money, thank you.

The second biggest Washington industry is the character-assassination and personal-destruction machine, fueled by the piles of cash, enriching the consultants who make personally demeaning television ads, and fortified by the incest between oppo researchers and many reporters who report oppo-research as news.

For those who think these are strong words, please note: The overwhelming majority of the American people agree with them.

What Mailer wrote of Kennedy was that he was one of those authentic war heroes who showed authentic political courage and daring. What Kennedy asked of Americans was to give something back to the country, confident, very correctly, that the country would care.

Which "leaders" today are asking the people for real sacrifice, real patriotic commitment?

America has never gone to war with presidents who promise tax cuts, Congresses that allow our troops to go to war and die preventable deaths, and conditions for wounded troops and heroic vets that are far too often a national shame.

If homeless veterans, whom we should call our homeless heroes, could donate 10 percent of what oil companies give to politicians, they would be living in suites at the Waldorf Astoria.

JFK would know: If political leaders champion the cause of homeless heroes they would be acclaimed by more 50 million men and women in military communities and by more than 100 million men and women of faith, regardless of denomination, across America.

Mailer called JFK "The Existential Hero" for the actions he took himself, for his country, and for what he challenged us to do, for ours.

The great fault line in American politics today involves those who seek personal or monetary advantage by exploiting our democracy, versus those who take risks by asking others to be existential heroes themselves.

My take is: The American people are ready, willing and hoping to be asked what they can do for our country — and when asked, like existential heroes, they will do it.

The trumpet summons us again, but who will issue the call? That is what I hope to explore in the future column and Internet editions of "The Presidential Papers." I have plenty of ideas, and if you do too, drop me a note at brentbbi@webtv.net

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