Letter: We Can’t Hide From Our Problems

To the Editor:

Listening to the political rhetoric of the recent campaigns, I found myself conjuring up the image of the proverbial ostrich sticking its head in the ground at the approach of trouble. Our candidates are well protected by scripts designed to demonstrate their awareness of important issues without divulging much of the basis for their judgments. Woe to the one who slips with no way to cover up. But if we listen carefully to their glib statements, we get hints of the seriousness of problems with our political, economic and social systems. What the electorate is not told explicitly is the seriousness of our deficiencies.

In the Oct. 19 New York Times, Scott Shane lists the following: On child poverty, the U.S. ranks 34th among the 35 most economically advanced countries, edging out Romania. On educational achievement, it is 28th in the percentage of 4-year-olds enrolled in preschool and 14th in the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds with a higher education. On infant mortality, the U.S. ranks worse than 48 other countries and territories. On social mobility, it trails most of Europe, Australia and Canada. Its incarceration rate is far higher than that of Russia, Cuba, Iran and China. The U.S. obesity rate easily outweighs second-place Mexico and is nearly 10 times Japan’s. Per capita energy use in the U.S. is double that of prosperous Germany.

Hedrick Smith in Who Stole the American Dream (2012) notes that income inequalities have grown dramatically since the mid-’70s — far more in the U.S. than in most advanced countries.

Finally, Bill McKibben cites startling data on climate change in the July Rolling Stone, including that June broke or tied U.S. high-temperature records, preceded by the warmest May on record in the Northern Hemisphere.

We can’t hide from these problems like the proverbial ostrich. Rather, we can take to heart a lesson from ancient mythology, which teaches that calling an evil spirit by its name enables you to ward it off. Adapting this advice, explicitly identifying our hidden problems or unfair tactics might break the spell they cast. Let a leader declare himself and excite the citizenry to action.

Bob Scobie