John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


State of The Union: Our Lost Generation

Posted on January 24, 2014

My fellow Americans, we are gathered here to discuss the State of Our Union.

America is strong, but it is not healthy.

Like an offensive tackle who can move mountains but can’t touch his toes, like an Olympic athlete who takes steroids to better compete, like a third baseman who takes human growth hormones so he can hit more home runs, America must confront the ticking time-bombs that will destroy this nation if they are not defused.

Debt, family breakdown, a broken political system, widespread unemployment, obesity, and the pernicious disease of boredom are just some of those time-bombs.

We are a nation of communities, bound together for the common good.

We have to rebuild trust and break down isolation.  We have to appreciate that life is to be lived not alone but together.

Our debt is completely unsustainable.   The Federal Reserve prints money like it grows on trees.  Entitlement programs already engulf every dollar we collect in taxes.  We can’t sustain this forever.  We must steer to a safer course.

We have social and economic inequality, but the real problem with is not what the rich are doing.  It is what is happening to the poor.

As a percentage, we have the fewest people participating in the workforce since the Carter Administration.  More people have just given up looking for work at any time in our nation’s history.

The workplace has changed, and for some people, they simply can’t find a job.

But others wouldn’t be able to keep a job if they had access to one, because they don’t have the mental, intellectual and emotional tools to be successful employees.

Our schools have failed in some regards, but you can’t blame teachers for the social ills that have befallen this country.  This goes deeper than that.  There is a spiritual, moral and values breakdown that has destroyed the family unit in many parts of America.  And that is the part of our society that is falling further and further behind.

I am worried about the breakdown of the family unit and how that impacts our future.  Every study shows that surest path to the middle class is a two-parent family, yet more and more Americans are having children out of wedlock.

Every study shows that it is harder for children when they don’t have a mom and a dad to help raise them.  We need to renew our focus on strengthening families in this country.

As a percentage of national budget, we don’t invest nearly enough money in making the next generation successful.   Instead, we saddle them with unrealistic college loans and when they graduate, they have no job prospects.

This is a lost generation.  And if we don’t start focusing on this lost generation now, we will pay for it later.

There is a spiritual crisis infecting too many Americans.  I am not talking about merely about religion, although faith can play a role.  I am not talking about people not finding true meaning in life.  I am talking about the pernicious disease of widespread boredom.  I am talking about rampant drug use for people who can’t get a thrill from living life without drugs.

Certain parts of America are being hollowed out by a meth epidemic.  Why would people get hooked on meth, when the long-term health implications are so abundantly clear?  We would people want to live their lives with rotting teeth, risking their well-being for a temporary high?

This is a spiritual problem.  It is a problem of folks being bored, of not finding the good in everyday life.  A breakdown in family values makes this problem worse.

The war on drugs has failed, but that is not the fault of our law enforcement community, which does it’s level best to enforce the law and fight drug abuse.

We need to get drug abusers out of prison and into treatment facilities.  We need to treat this as a health epidemic and not a crime epidemic.

America is not the healthy place it used to be.

It has changed, and not for the better.  We have more food than we have ever had, and that is reflected in the fact that we have more obese people than any other country in history.

This is not healthy, and our unhealthiness is helping to drive us to bankruptcy.

We have more people on disability than at any other point in our nation’s history.  For many folks, if they can’t find a job they like, they find a way to get disability benefits.  That’s not fair to the taxpayers, nor is it fair to the next generation of taxpayers that will have to manage a bankrupt country.

We have more people on food stamps that any other time in our history, and the grim fact is that this government program doesn’t cure our problems with obesity.  It makes them worse!

Now, some Americans have done very well in this economy, and they continue to do well.

They do well because they send their kids to the best schools they can, they make them do their homework, they teach them values that help them to succeed in the private sector, and they steer them to healthy lifestyles.

This has helped spur a deeper divide between the haves and the have-nots.

Some might want to put this gulf into an economic context.  But merely throwing more government money at this situation won’t solve the problems of economic inequality.  And tearing down the rich won’t lift up the poor.

We need a plan to lift up the poor that incentivizes healthy lifestyles, strong families and thriving communities.

We need to teach strong ethical values to both children and parents.  We need to remind people that greed, envy, lust, sloth, greed, and wrath are bad ways to live in a healthy society, and that charity, patience, humility, diligence and kindness pay off in the end.

We also need to fix our political system.  It is unhealthy to have so much vitriol infect our national conversations.   Our political leaders need to lead a respectful conversation, not slash and burn their opponents.  It is all fine and dandy to have a spirited debate, but if we don’t come together in common purpose, we will destroy the very sinews that keep this country united.

We need greater transparency in political giving and we need to restore trust in our political leaders, so that cynicism doesn’t overwhelm the process.

Democracy only works when the governed respect those who govern.  When that relationship is severed, the Republic will not long survive.   Politicians have to strive to look first for the national good.

We are governed by the people through our Constitution.  Our Constitution sets up the appropriate boundaries for what the government should do and what should be left to the people to do for themselves.  We should rely on that founding document more, but also appreciate that it calls for government to work to compel order and provide for the general welfare of the people.  It is not a document that calls for the people to figure it all out for themselves.

And as America moves to become not just a strong country, but also a healthy one, it must work to make certain that all people who are here are able to fully participate, make a contribution and be protected by the full extent of the law.

Our generations, people from around the globe have immigrated to America’s shores, hoping to find a better life for themselves and their families.  Immigrants have become an integral and essential part of the American story.

We now have 11 million immigrants who live in America who are afraid to come out of the shadows because they might be thrown in jail.  Most of them work, but don’t have the protections of the law because they came here without legal status.   This is unsustainable and runs counter to the vast bulk of the American experience.

We need to fix this problem.  We don’t have to make them all citizens via a special path, but we should give them legal status so that they can be full participants in our communities, in our neighborhoods and in our economy.  That would be huge step to make America a healthier country.

America is a great country and it is a strong nation.  But it is not healthy.  Together, we need to work to make it a healthier, more vibrant, more dynamic, more free and a better place to live for all of its citizens.