My son turned nine yesterday. He is my first-born; his birth nine years ago signified that precise moment when I became, like all parents, equally connected to the past and future. As a parent, I pass on the lessons I've learned through my life experiences to my children, who (one hopes) will use them as guideposts as they move forward to inhabit the future.
The end of this dreadful year leaves me feeling melancholy, and it is my role as a parent that worries me most. I know that I will at some point have to answer to my children - I will have to explain how we took astronomical surpluses and made them vanish – poof – like Harry Potter vanishes when he drapes his invisibility cloak over himself. Of course, Harry reappears the moment he takes the cloak off. Our federal surplus, however, has vanished – and our children will be paying down this debt for many years to come.
I'll have to explain to my children how a president who coined the phrase "compassionate conservatism" decided to remain on vacation after Katrina, the worst national disaster in our country's history, devastated New Orleans.
I'll have to explain how a nation that once prided itself on being a beacon for liberty and the rule of law became a vocal advocate for the use of torture.
When my children come to me with questions about the meltdown; about the use of torture; about the disaster known as 2008, I don't know if I'll have answers that will satisfy them. But I do know that I will share with them something that Teddy Roosevelt said more than 100 years ago when he spoke at the 4th of July celebration in Dickinson, North Dakota in 1886:
"...It is peculiarly incumbent upon us here today so to act throughout our lives as to leave our children a heritage for which we will receive their blessing and not their curse.
"If you fail to work in public life, as well as in private, for honesty and uprightness and virtue, if you condone vice because the vicious man is smart, or if you in any other way cast your weight into the scales in favor of evil, you are just so far corrupting and making less valuable the birthright of your children...."
As we look back on the milestones of 2008, it is clear that we have ill-used our blessings in ways that have devastated the value of our children's birthright. It is time now to move forward as if we all belong to the future; to act in ways that renew the "glorious heritage" we've all been granted as residents of the United States of America.
For in the words of Teddy Roosevelt, "it is not what we have that will make us a great nation; it is the way in which we use it."