The following HTML text is provided to enhance online
readability. Many aspects of typography translate only awkwardly to HTML.
Please use the page image
as the authoritative form to ensure accuracy.
Is America Falling Off the Flat Earth?
be problems. Columnist David Broder, writing in The Washington Post under the title “Thankless Bipartisanship,” put it this way: “On Monday, with few of his colleagues present and the Senate press galleries largely unoccupied, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee took the floor. ‘Last week,’ he said, ‘while the media covered Iraq and [recently fired] US attorneys, the Senate spent three days debating and passing perhaps the most important piece of legislation of this two-year session.’” Broder went on to assert that “Alexander’s larger point is that this is the model Congress and the president need to follow—if any of the major challenges facing the country are to be met.”
Indeed, the constructive bipartisanship reflected, at least to date, in addressing the nation’s competitiveness-jobs-quality of life issue poses an excellent example for the resolution of many challenges. Ironically, when the overwhelmingly supportive vote on competitiveness was occurring in the House of Representatives, the media made virtually no mention of the event. Instead, it focused almost exclusively on a partisan battle that was concurrently being waged on another piece of legislation.
Some rightfully question whether the actions proposed by the National Academies, even if fully implemented, will be sufficient or even significant. One can know the answer to that question only as time progresses, but the proposals are at least a beginning. What is clear is that to do nothing is an almost certain formula for a greatly diminished America. There remain a few observers who insist that there is in fact no competitiveness issue; that concerns such as those expressed here are overstated. One can only hope that these observers are correct. But it seems imprudent to gamble the future of the nation and its children on that possibility. As Churchill said of those who argued against defense spending in Britain after World War I claiming that future wars were impossible in the “more civilized society” then existing: “It would be a pity if they were wrong.”
In my travels abroad, I have been astonished by the degree to which foreign officials are familiar with the National Academies’ Gathering Storm report. Some are conducting similar reviews of their own competitiveness standing. The ultimate irony—it might be termed the Doomsday Scenario—would be if our efforts succeeded in motivating others to do more and then we ourselves did or sustained little.
This nation did not arrive in its increasingly tenuous competitiveness situation overnight, certainly not under any one political party’s oversight or through any single ill-considered action. For example, it has now been fully 24 years since a prestigious national commission on education cited what it called “a rising tide of mediocrity” in the nation’s public schools. The true measure of our commitment in this contest will be staying-power.