Jim Lee: We live in the moment at our peril

While partisanship and bickering between the two major political parties gets most of the blame for our country's dysfunction, a bigger concern to all of us should be the growing number of people who are disengaged from politics, have no clue about the workings of government and aren't interested in learning about how they can play a part in turning things around.
Although the quote often is attributed to Patrick Henry, it was Wendell Phillips, citing Thomas Jefferson in a speech in 1952 in Boston, Mass., who said, "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."
Today, few in our country practice that eternal vigilance.
A Public Polling Policy survey last month got some traction, especially among Democrats, because it showed that 29 percent of Louisiana Republicans blamed President Barack Obama for the government's response to Hurricane Katrina.
Republican George W. Bush - "Brownie, you're doin' a heck of a job" - was of course president when Katrina hit, and his praise for the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency even as the government mishandled its response was fodder for late night comedians for months.
In the poll, however, only 28 percent of the Louisiana Republicans blamed Bush.
Democrats and liberal pundits jumped on the survey to show how many Republicans want to blame Obama for anything and everything. What I found more surprising, however, was the statistic that showed 44 percent of the respondents didn't know whom to blame.
Are that many people in our country so absorbed in themselves that they can't even remember a major catastrophe that happened just a few years ago and all the controversy that surrounded it? Bush was on vacation when the storm hit, and remained there for days afterward until finally going back to Washington to oversee response efforts. At the time, his approval rating took a huge dive. No one, except Bush himself, was defending the government's response to the disaster.
We've really become an "in the moment" society. Extremes from the left or the right scream out about a perceived injustice, people clamor for resolution or change, and then everyone retreats until the next real or imagined crisis. Is it any wonder that people oppose government programs whose payoff comes years down the road, or why fights break out over spending money for something now even if it means failing to do so will cost us more down the road? Living in the moment ignores the reality that some things - most notably education for our children, infrastructure such as roads or the power grid and international relations - take a back seat to the crisis du jour and the screaming fanatics on the extremes. And the trouble is that we have been operating this way for a while now, and every day more and more people grow weary of the bickering and just tune everything out entirely.
When that happens, you get polls that show almost half the people in the nation don't know the basic facts about a recent national disaster, and more than a quarter of those who do think they know are blaming the wrong person for a failed response.
Expand that thinking to the arguments over health care. As has repeatedly been noted, Obama's health-care plan is modeled after a Republican plan and mirrors what Republicans lobbied for when Republicans controlled government. Once a Democrat got in office, however, health-care reform morphed into a socialist plot even though if you ask Republicans, they will say they like being able to have their kids on their health-care plans longer, like that insurance companies can't drop them when they get sick or cap their coverage.
In truth, while there may be some parts of the plan Republicans don't like, generally they oppose it because it was passed by Democrats. But all the public hears is rhetoric from the left saying how good it is, from the right saying how bad it is, and no one knows who or what to believe, so, until the time comes when it applies directly to them, they just tune it out.
Better to live in the moment. We'll deal with other things that come up later when they actually impact us. We can blame the Democrats or the Republicans for their obstinate behavior and government gridlock, but what we really need to be doing it paying attention to where we are going; otherwise we might not be too happy with where we end up.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun