We're headed in the wrong direction. Americans across lines of race and region, in red states and blue states, moderates, independents, liberals and increasing numbers of conservatives now have come to understand that. In Washington, the Bush administration and the DeLay Congress stagger from scandal to failure — adrift when we need direction.
We have lost a sense of common purpose — a sense of the better angels of our nature. I remember immediately after Sept. 11, when Americans asked what they could do for their country. "Go shopping," the president recommended, as he pushed for another tax cut for the wealthy.
We were not thinking as consumers, but as citizens. Instead of asking anything of us in that crisis, he fought the war with our children's money.
This fundamental divorce from our basic values has become a hallmark of this administration and the Republican Congress.
The president hails good news from Iraq in the completion of the new Iraqi government and the death of al-Qaeda's feared leader in the country. And then he announces not a plan to withdraw our troops, but a commitment to keep troops there indefinitely. We are spending over $10 billion a month on this war; soldiers are dying in ethnic and religious civil wars that we have no stake in.
Why would success not accelerate the withdrawal rather than lead to an even greater commitment?
The president hails the new jobs created in the economy — and pushes for another tax cut and repeal of the inheritance tax that applies only to the wealthiest 1 percent of families. But inequality is at record levels. The economy is working only for the few. CEO salaries are soaring, but workers' wages aren't keeping up with costs and benefits are being cut.
Why would the president consider this a successful economy if Americans are — for the first time since the Great Depression — spending more than they earn?
The president calls for us to move beyond partisan politics. Then he pushes an amendment to the Constitution to ban gay marriage — knowing that it will not pass. The debate can only divide us, rouse fears and anger — yet even the radical right knows this is a cynical gesture done for political purpose.
The right wing in Congress pushes to build a wall around our border — and to deport some 12 million people who work here without documentation. They know there is no way to identify or to deport those people. Yet they would refuse even those who work, pay taxes, obey the laws and learn English as a path to citizenship.
This leads to an ugly politics — Republican candidates claiming that your children will be forced to speak Spanish and other nonsense. The reality is that the administration — and most of those doing the most talking — have failed to enforce the laws we have. They've refused to crack down on employers that exploit illegal immigrants. And those employers are happy to have a pool of workers without citizenship who can be exploited and used to drive down wages.
The nation, the president says, is addicted to oil. But his energy plan is based on subsidies to Big Oil, and scorn for conservation. He has simply refused to launch a concerted drive for energy independence — to invest in alternative energy and energy efficiency, to retrofit buildings in our cities and put people to work. His policy doesn't even match his rhetoric.
We have children still in poverty, going to schools on dangerous streets, and those schools are overcrowded and under-repaired, too often with the least experienced teachers. Millions of children are home alone after school. And the Congress makes the largest cuts in the budget out of education.
We are running a $1 trillion deficit with the world this year. We're shipping good jobs abroad. We are borrowing over $2 billion a day, largely from Chinese and Japanese bankers. Yet the president does nothing. His economists say outsourcing is good for our economy. They say workers just have to fend for themselves. But we're running up foreign debts — over $2.5 trillion now — that our children will have to pay. It does not make sense.
Hurricane Katrina exposed nature's wrath as we begin to feel the effects of global warming. After being in denial for five years, the administration finally recognized that global warming is a reality. And their reaction? Nothing. No initiative, no policy change, no response. As stewards of God's creation, surely all Americans expect better.
This list could go on — voting rights, enforcement of civil rights laws, poverty and opportunity. But the point is clear. We are adrift as a nation. We have an administration and Congress that simply are not able to reflect basic decency or address common problems.
Clearly, we need new leadership and a new direction before it is too late.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. is founder and president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.