One of the great benefits of history is that it gives us perspective ... perspective of not only what happened in the past, but why it happened. And a perspective with which to measure and assess the present.
I listened to all of President Obama's State of the Union speech last night. It is certainly clear to all Americans that "Now is the time ..." for perspective.
Over the last two years we have endured what may be the greatest economic collapse in the history of this nation.
No one knows for sure where this fiscal disaster will stop. What we do know is that the rate of decline continues to accelerate. One third of the total jobs lost during this two-year recession have been lost in the last three months. The last quarter of 2008 saw the greatest decline in home values in generations. Home values in many California communities have declined 50% ... 35 to 40% in many Florida communities.
We are suffering through an economic cataclysm of historic proportions. Only history will tell us if this time is, in fact, The Great Depression.
At the same time, our nation has undergone the greatest political cataclysm since Thomas Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence.
Last month, I watched all day as our nation inaugurated an African-American man as President of the United States. Make no doubt about this point ... that day was the change of an age. Nothing will ever be the same again.
The age of the Baby Boomers has ended ... at least their control over the age.
When I was a boy, African-American men and women in the South could not chose their own seats on a bus. They could not eat in "white-only" restaurants; they could not drink from "white-only" water fountains.
A colleague of mine, a man who must be at least 10 years my junior, told me recently his grandfather was born a slave. Imagine that. A grandfather who was born a slave.
And, today, we have an African-American man as President, and there has not been rioting in the streets or acts of civil disobedience ... or the secession of states to form their own union.
This is a new age ... something we have never seen before.
So, we are living through the greatest economic and greatest political cataclysms - perhaps - in the history of our nation.
Which leads me to wonder ... what comes next? And what will it mean?
In the days after 9/11, the people of this nation were, in the vast majority, willing to surrender some of their rights for security - whether real or imagined. We were all afraid of what would come next. I know, living in New York City, I was. And we wanted the government, the military, to protect us from these mad terrorists.
Now, in the first days of his Presidency, Mr. Obama has closed the detention camp at Guantanamo and ordered an end to torture during interrogation. In the days after 9/11, putting suspected terrorists in detention anywhere, and using extraordinary measures to protect our citizens, may have looked a lot more palatable. Today, in hindsight, they look like big mistakes.
So, last night, I heard our President - and God bless him and help him make wise decisions - say that he wanted government to dictate what proper business practices would be in this new age; that he wanted government to determine how banks should function; that he wanted health care for every citizen; that every student has the right to go to college; that he wanted to tax the richest 2% of Americans to help pay for his plans.
And ... all this is the face of the largest spending bill in the history of this nation - the $1 trillion economic stimulus package - that was passed by Congress in less time than it takes to renew your driver's license at the DMV office.
Yes ... we need to do something to try and shore up the economic disaster that threatens the very fabric of our society. Doing nothing is not an option.
But, what I wonder is, what will history tell us, once we have a chance to shine the light of perspective on this time?
Will it tell us that the Federal government made all the right decisions, spent all its money wisely, resurrected economic growth - and then got out of the free market system?
Or, will history tell us that we just entered a new age. The age of a socialist America?
I listened to all of President Obama's State of the Union message last night. And what I heard made me fear even more for the future of this nation.
I'm concerned that, in the name of economic stability, we are inviting socialism to replace democracy. That we are ready to jettison our republic in favor of expediency.
And I fear for our future. Good intentions in dangerous times have led us to disastrous blunders in the past. And what happens when there is another cataclysm added to what has transpired so far? What happens if, God forbid, terrorists once again defile this nation and its people?
Is that the day we move from the age of democracy and freedom to socialism and dictatorship?
Is that possibility so far away? Or, is Now the time?