For us, the moment of clarity came in the aftermath of
Hurricane Katrina. Government on all levels had fundamentally
failed. Thirty-four senior citizens abandoned in a nursing home
drowned in isolation while 22,000 people trapped in the Superdome
were without water because the government couldn't get the water
from outside the dome inside.
Contrast this intolerable performance by government with the speed, convenience and efficiency of self-service gas pumps, Travelocity, FedEX and Google and it is hard not to conclude that government is on a collision course with reality. An ATM anywhere in the world can access your bank account and dispense cash in the local currency in about 11 seconds. Yet, people in need are waiting months to receive simple government transfers following Katrina.
A recent news expose reported that the federal government has been awarding contracts to repair the storm-damaged Gulf coast at up to 17 times the actual cost of doing the work. As many as one in four American schools, after four years of trying, will fail to meet the standards set by No Child Left Behind because, inexplicably, the fight over whether schools are for educating children or for providing jobs for bureaucrats has still not been won.
During the State of the Union address, some members of Congress actually stood and applauded the President's admission that the effort to save Social Security for younger workers failed.
Despite some progress, we have a health care delivery system that is stuck in the past. Shielded from the market forces that improve quality and lower costs, prices continue to spiral out of control, causing too many Americans to be without insurance.
Between 11 million and 20 million people are in United States illegally. Worse yet is that the director of the Central Intelligence Agency fully expects a weapon of mass destruction to be driven across the border. Recently a government team proved that it was easy to do. Yet four years after 9/11, we have taken no serious steps to control the border.
American society, rooted in inalienable, individual rights under the rule of law, has been a shining example to those who long for freedom, prosperity and self-governance. Yet, our public image around the world is in shambles. In our struggle against a calculated assault from the irreconcilable wing of Islam, our failure to win the communications war globally is demonstrated by countries surrendering to those who would impose their uncivil values upon the civilized world and accepting lectures on tolerance from theocrats who oppress women and outlaw all but their own religion.
While our intelligence and diplomatic bureaucracies stood by helplessly, the violence that ensued over the Danish cartoons proved that our enemies are capable of spreading a message of hate more efficiently than we are of spreading a message of hope.
At home, Congress has had its own chilling effect on political speech. The McCain-Feingold campaign finance law forced Wisconsin Right to Life to pull its issue ads off the air. The First Amendment says, "Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech." It does not say Congress can prohibit speech it doesn't like.
In the aftermath of Jack Abramoff, Congress continues to scramble to enact piecemeal reforms so as to not have to confront the problem that government is too big and too powerful. After Republicans won the majority in 1994 with a bold set of ideas, it was called a revolution. But Washington didn't create that revolution, nor could it; America did and it forced real change.
The challenges we face today are, if anything, more profound and more consequential than those we faced in 1994. The question our country faces is: Will Washington adapt to the speed of the new century? As has been true throughout history, Americans stand ready to spread our wings and soar despite the new challenges we face. But to do so, outmoded government bureaucracies need to be replaced.
America needs to return to the basic principles which have always made us strong. Innovation comes from individuals, not bureaucrats. Security comes from strength, not appeasement. And America's future lies in reform, not rigidity. People expect results, not excuses. Real change requires real change.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is the author of "Winning the Future: A 21st Century Contract with America."
Edwin Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research institute and co-author of the new book Getting America Right.
First Appeared in UnionLeader.com