The age of unreasonable expectations

Monday, May 5, 2003

KENNETT, Mo. -- Perhaps it's due to our remarkable heritage from immigrants seeking new lives in an uncharted land, or the modern fast-food industries that promise to meet our hunger demands in mere seconds, or perhaps it can be traced to an affluent age in which virtually every item and commodity can be purchased just by walking into a store and flashing a small piece of plastic that is guaranteed to deliver our wish in less time than we spend in preparing ready-to-heat meals.

For all I know, it might even be the fact that we are now actually carrying around on our persons a piece of electronic marvel that keeps us in 24-7 touch with anyone in our whole wide world.

Whatever the cause, it seems that many, if not most of us, have a finely tuned expectation about what we want in the world, how we can go about securing those wants and what the final product, upon delivery, should be. Let's admit it, we have become recipients of goods and services we have decided we cannot -- should not -- be denied for our well-being and happiness, and pity the person or group or population segment that we believe is doing the denying.

Unfortunately, this impatience embraces virtually every field of human endeavor, whether it be the immediate delivery of a pizza to our front door to the promise of a politician or his political party or the performance of virtually every public service in America. We want our just reward and we want it now, and may God protect those who fail to meet this unholy expectation.

Currently the United States and its elected leaders are winding down from a dangerous gamble that may restore right in a small nation thousands of miles from our shores that seemingly constituted a threat to the safety of every man, woman and child in the Western Hemisphere. This bold project was undertaken with the promise that it would be swift and virtually painless, promises our nervous leaders made to minimize any moral outrage that could emanate from constituents.

When President George Bush issued the go-ahead signal, our troops began mobilizing, our gigantic transports began warming their engines, and our battleships pointed toward Iraq. Within a remarkably short time, the nation's war machines had not only landed in the designated unfriendly territory, they were within a matter of hours, able to place the final target within their sights. A mere delay of a few hours caused consternation and panic predictions of failure; we hadn't given our troops more than a few hours of rest before we were demanding instant success and total capitulation of our enemies. Some demanded to see the weapons of mass destruction that had been promised, while others quickly demanded proof that Uncle Sam would be greeted as a hero by citizens whose lives had been dramatically changed within the period of a week. After waging war, we were only willing to wait a day or two to enjoy its promised benefits.

Let's move closer to home and see how well we have adapted to the horrendous events of Sept. 11, 2001, yet another day that will live in infamy in America's history books. Of course, we expected the rubble from deliberate airline collisions with huge office towers in New York and the nation's military command offices in Washington to be cleaned up, but we often seemed unwilling to consider the ancillary ramifications of these despicable crimes, including the need to help adjust and compensate the thousands of affected families across the country, meet the high cost of programs designed to thwart and prevent future terrorist crimes, and pay the expense of replacing the destroyed and forever damaged lives and property of those directly affected.

Moving closer to home, Missourians have found themselves protesting the expected tax revenue shortages that were expected with an economic slowdown that accompanied events in the past two years. We have grown impatient with state leaders who cannot fulfill our every wish by funding new programs or even maintaining recent increases mandated by population gains and a new economic climate. Suddenly we blame these shortfalls on the office of our governor or the chambers of our legislature or our city councils. We have even been critical of such publicly funded projects as elementary and secondary education, and welfare assistance and public relief programs which have been forced to revise and broaden the scope of their activities.

Perhaps even more disturbing, we seemingly have failed in our role of being an informed citizenry at a time when such judgment is required. We argue that we, as citizens, are not responsible for harmful reductions and terminations, yet when we have been given the right to correct them, we have immediately protested that the government is responsible. Such explanations are fatuous at best, yet they are accepted as sound reasoning by those among us who have little or no stake in the quality and breadth of public schools, medical assistance for the sick and elderly and care of our most vulnerable, our children.

When alternatives are offered to fund these public services, we have consistently rejected them, declaring we are unwilling to inaugurate services and programs with new fees. A majority of us have drawn a line in the sand and declared we have given enough and that needed programs shall not be funded by "our money." But the value of this money is that it both saves and serves our nation, our state and our city -- and that none would or could exist were it not for their urgency.

We may criticize the actions of our president, our governor or our mayor, and while they may be culpable, they are legally so. It's true: we are born free, but, unfortunately, we are not born wise. The immediate business of a democracy such as ours is to make free men wise.

Jack Stapleton is the editor of Missouri News & Editorial Service.

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