Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Paul Ryan Brings Us To The Fourth Turning

Paul Ryan recently joked that President Obama was lost because "he only knows left turns".

It was a nice line but the practical problem with anyone just making left turns when they are lost is they end up in the same place at some point.

The same can also be said about someone only making right turns.

The problems that we have today require much better navigational and leadership skills than we have gotten from President Obama.   We need a leader who can work through left turns, right turns, curves and a lot of uphill driving.

Most importantly, they have to deal with the fact that we are in "The Fourth Turning."

I have written before about The Fourth Turning, the excellent book by Neil Howe and William Strauss, which refers to the patterns of history and how that cycle affects our culture, civic order and history.  The book was written in 1997 and they predicted that "sometime around the year 2005, perhaps a few years before or after, America will enter The Fourth Turning."  With The Fourth Turning comes a period of upheaval that the nation has experienced every 80 years or so just as it has in other societies over time.  It is a time of Crisis in which the very survival of society will eventually seem to be at risk.

Think about our history beginning with the Revolutionary War in 1776.

1856-1865  Slavery issue leads to The Civil War

1929-1945  The Depression and World War II

2001, 2005 or 2008  World Trade Center, Katrina or the Financial Meltdown are all possible indicators that The Fourth Turning is in motion.  We will not know for sure when The Fourth Turning actually began until we view things in the fullness of time, but there seems to be little doubt we have made the turn.

This is what I wrote about The Fourth Turning just over a year ago.
What does it all mean?  We need to change our approach.  We need leaders that will lead.  We need to be decisive in confronting our problems.  We need to put the public interest ahead of special interests.  There will need to be political upheaval and public sacrifice.  There will need to be more personal responsibility and personal accountability.  We need to de-fund time-encrusted government bureaucracies.  We need to promote traditional virtues.

We also need to focus on reversing the decline of the middle class and focus more on children and less on senior programs.   We need less class warfare and find better ways to build bridges between the classes.  We need to understand it is about our country and not about us.

We need to understand there is a role for government to help us navigate the rough waters ahead of us.  There are many things that only government can do.  To get through this period government will have to be the force that can galvanize and unite us to meet the challenge.  We cannot survive the crisis if we are all going our separate ways.  To meet the big challenges of the previous Fourth Turnings like the Revolution, the Civil War and World War II it took a strong government to lead and to galvanize the people to meet the crisis and create a new sustainable civic order. 
I am not talking about the type of government we have now. 
Our Constitution specifically states that the key duties of our government are to provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare. It was not designed to pick winners and losers. Its role was seen to protect both and to see that both had a level playing field. It is supposed to be about the public interest rather than special interests.  It is about what is best for the United States rather than US as individuals.  This is the type of government that helped us survive previous Fourth Turnings.

We do not yet have the leadership or government in place yet to do what needs to be done.  However, I see the glimmer of true hope and change starting to emerge. 
The selection of Paul Ryan by Mitt Romney is a sure sign that the glimmer I saw a year ago for hope in confronting the crisis is taking form.  Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are positioning this election as a clear choice.  This is a debt we owe Paul Ryan.  He almost single-handedly changed the debate in Washington about our budget problems.  He talked about confronting our problems and he led with ideas to do something about it.  Paul Ryan has brought us to what has to be done to meet the challenges of The Fourth Turning.

The decision whether to meet that challenge now will be up to the American people.  However, there is no choice if we want to continue to exist with anything close to the society we are used to.  We will have to decide to meet the challenge or else.  The stakes are that big.

Strauss and Howe do not suggest that we have to be fatalistic in responding to The Fourth Turning.  If the cycles of history were seasons, we have entered the Winter months.  That does not mean that you cannot prepare and survive the season.  It is a choice about how you go about it.  You can understand the environment and prepare and do what has to be done in that season.  In addition, the earlier you accept what you are facing and confront the crisis, the better you will be.
If you wish to get more out of life (or nature), you have the power to do that, but it takes work.  You and your society have the power to influence history, but that takes work too-and always, your efforts must be appropriate for the time.  
The choice is there for the American people this November but it remains in doubt whether there are enough who understand the gravity of our current situation.  However, the stakes are huge for both parties according to Howe and Strauss.
Soon after the catalyst, a national election will produce a sweeping political alignment, as one faction or coalition capitalizes on a new public demand for decisive action.  Republicans, Democrats, or perhaps a new party will decisively win the long partisan tug-of-war, ending the era of split government that had lasted through four decades.  The winners will now have the power to pursue the more potent, less incrementalist agenda which their adversaries had darkly warned.  This new regime will enthrone itself for the duration of the Crisis.  Regardless of its ideology, that new leadership will assert public authority and demand private sacrifice.  Where leaders had once been inclined to alleviate societal pressures, they will now aggravate them to command the nation's attention.
In the 2008 election I thought Barack Obama and the Democrats had this sweeping political alignment in their grasp.  However, the agenda that they pursued did not align with the public's demand for decisive action on the economy, jobs, dealing with special interests and seeing Washington work together.  The people voted for hope and change and they got Obamacare and not much else.  The 2010 mid-term elections put the political alignment back in play and Paul Ryan finally got the platform he needed to change the debate in Washington and bring us face to face with The Fourth Turning.

This is our rendezvous with history.  Everyone needs to ask if they are ready.  If not now, when?  If not us, who?  Paul Ryan answered these a while ago.  Mitt Romney's answer is also in.  Where are you?

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