While discussing the Charleston church shooting, Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry mistakenly referred to it as an "accident" rather than an "incident." For that, he was gleefully ridiculed by political foes and lambasted by the media. And of course, neither missed a beat reminding everyone that Perry was the guy who couldn’t recall a government agency during a 2012 presidential debate.
Like Perry or not, no rational person can honestly believe that he thought the Charleston massacre was an accident. Or that he is a bumbling incompetent simply because he couldn’t remember a trivial point.
But perception is reality, and the perception being fostered on the American people is that Perry is out to lunch. So rather than talking about his solutions to America’s problems, Perry is now incessantly clarifying his remarks to explain what he meant, even though we all know exactly what he meant. In all likelihood, Perry will be unable to escape from the hole that has been dug for him, because we have become a people who care more about style than substance.
And that is precisely why so few good people run for public office. Sadly, who can blame them? Why should they subject themselves and their families to vicious attacks and irrelevant political escapades that have nothing to do with solving problems? They conclude that it’s just not worth it, throwing in the towel before ever getting into the game, and fresh, commonsense ideas are never brought to the table.
When good people stay away, those left running the show are the same ones who created the mess, and the status quo wins. Since they can’t see the problems, by definition, they cannot solve them. Intellectually bankrupt, they are left putting Band-Aid solutions from yesteryear on today’s gaping wounds.
It’s not working, and things are getting worse.
Yet, people aren’t demanding change. Instead of rolling up our sleeves and tackling our problems head-on before they spiral out of control, we continually allow ourselves to get sucked into irrelevant tangents.
Nowhere is that more on display than the red-hot controversy on whether to remove the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s capitol building, a debate precipitated by the Charleston shooting.
Are we really saying that a white lunatic killed black people because the Confederate battle flag was flying over the state capitol?
And here’s another question. Have we completely lost our minds? That’s not a rhetorical question, since no one in his right mind could actually believe the two things are related.
One has absolutely nothing to do with the other. Flying the Confederate flag is irrelevant to what happened in that church. So why are we having this discussion? Simple: Because it’s easy.
It’s easy for both sides to dig in: It’s either a symbol of slavery, or it is a proud piece of South Carolina’s history. (That debate is for another column). The flag controversy doesn’t remotely address the white elephant in the room: how to repair America’s broken race relations. But that takes work. That requires very frank conversations on both sides, with honest assessments about where the system is broken, and how we can begin to fix it. Unfortunately, that’s not happening.
America’s new M.O. is no longer able to look in the mirror and get the job done, as we always did in the past. Now, we run the other way the minute things get tough, kicking the can down the road to our children, even though problems become exponentially more difficult to solve the longer they go unaddressed.
At the root of it all, are we asking why the educational system is so bad, especially for black students trapped in monopolistic public schools where teachers’ unions hold all the cards and are accountable to no one? Are we connecting the dots that, without an education, job prospects are nonexistent, leading to despair, crime, jail — and death?
Taking it further, are we looking at why America’s manufacturing base continues to be outsourced, leaving a scarcity of good-paying, family sustaining jobs where those who actually become educated could work?
Are we taking a serious look at mental health issues, and why so many of our young people lack empathy for anyone, even themselves? And why a disturbing number of them — primarily white — turn to mass killings and ultimately suicide-by-cop as a "glorified" way out?
No to all. Instead, we look for convenient excuses (too many guns), and ridiculous explanations (the Confederate flag).
Does anyone really believe that, had that flag not flown over the capitol for a decade, the shooter still wouldn’t have carried out his massacre? Hell, he could have bought his own flag (so should we ban them?) or saw it in a book (should we censor textbooks and rewrite history)?
And if guns were banned, do we really think he wouldn’t have found a way to kill, either by stealing one, making a bomb, or stabbing people?
So instead of figuring out the problems and trying to solve them, we engage in fairy tale fluff and extraneous debates — then will act surprised when this type of tragedy occurs again. And again.
And it’s not just race where we play make-believe.
• Instead of figuring out what to do with millions of illegal immigrants, we engage in nasty rhetoric — and do absolutely nothing.
• Instead of ensuring that American children receive a quality education, we simply throw good money after bad in the naïve hope that things will improve.
• Instead of trying to help Native Americans lift themselves out of poverty (a condition America helped create), we complain about the "offensive" name of the Washington Redskins.
• Instead of becoming energy independent and extricating ourselves from the Middle East, we continue to occupy their lands and fund its oil barons (and terrorists) with our petro dollars — yet wonder why we are hated and targeted.
• And instead of making excuses as to why we can’t improve our decaying infrastructure quickly and efficiently, maybe we should take a lesson from China, which just erected a 57-story skyscraper in 19, yes, 19, days.
Now we are at a crossroads. We can pretend things will get better by engaging in irrelevant debates, or we can admit that reality isn’t influenced by such fantasy. If we are to ever regain the prominence we once had as the only nation that could shoot for the stars — and succeed — it’s time to stop playing games.
As a way to move forward, let’s look back to the timeless words of JFK as he challenged America to do the impossible:
"The greater our knowledge increases, the greater our ignorance unfolds … We choose (to go to the moon) and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win."
No more postponing. Let’s get the job done.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. He can be reached at [email protected].