John N. Gardner
Americans told like to be told we have problems or even remotely suggested that we might not be first in all things that matter. Some of us remember what happened to President Jimmy Carter’s ratings when he gave an oval office speech sitting there in a sweater, urging us to turn our thermostats down to conserve energy; and went on also to warn us about a “malaise” inflicting America’s collective psyche. Americans rewarded him by making him a one term president.
And then we had President George W. Bush who launched an unnecessary, unprovoked war, while simultaneously cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans and spending away an accumulated budget surplus, while exhorting us all to “go shopping”.
And the pendulum has just swung back. Finally, we have a President who told us on Wednesday, April 13 in a speech at George Washington University about the national deficit problem, that we all needed to “sacrifice”. It’s about time. Admittedly, one party has been saying consistently that we need to cut programs and support for the poor, children, and seniors while cutting taxes another 10% for the wealthiest of Americans, but that strategy wasn’t being called “sacrifice”, although if enacted, it clearly would be a “sacrifice” for most Americans for the benefit of a few Americans. No, now we have a President who is finally telling us we ALL need to SACRIFICE. I think the majority of us, even though we long for the not-so-long-ago days when we could use our ever increasing in value homes like the ATM machines they became, we know that sacrifices have to be made and most of us believe that all of us should make them. What will be the verdict on this President’s call for “sacrifice”. Stay tuned for November 2012. At last we have a clear defining of differences from which to choose.
In recent years there has been much praise, deservedly heaped upon “The Greatest Generation”, those who served our country during World War II. I was a child just after that war and I can remember both my parents and grandparents talking about the sacrifices they made. They told me how they went without gasoline, had to stay home, lacked many food types, and all volunteered at something to do with the war effort, like one of my grandmothers who folded bandages every day for our wounded. We prevailed because we sacrificed, all of us.
I am wondering how this call for sacrifice will play out on campuses. Our institutions are microcosms of the larger society. The same values play out there too. There are haves and have-nots. There are the richer and more powerful. Many have already been asked to sacrifice and have. Will our leaders at all levels emulate the President and call for shared sacrifices? The jury is out. I am making some predictions and my initial read is that although the academy is assumed to be more liberal, that many of its financial choices will be more similar to the opposition party than to what the President is calling for with his urging to “sacrifice”. What do you think? And what are you doing about this in your own sphere of influence?