WASHINGTON -- A new year is once again upon us. It comes, as they all do, with the soul of unbeatable determination. It's love at first sight, and then disappointment as reality sinks in. This year, the view over the cliff is harsh and unrelenting, waiting for us to jump.
Yet while we are talking almost exclusively about the "hard" issues ahead of us -- economic breakdown here, currency rate-fixing in Europe, and guns mowing down our children -- our serious issues aren't necessarily the hard ones. Rather, it is the "soft" ones -- issues that immediately affect people's lives, their pride, their very existence -- that are not getting the attention they deserve.
Take, first, the fact of violence, not in Connecticut or Colorado, but in our big cities. News stories focus on numbers killed (about 500 in my hometown of Chicago in 2012), on police adequacy or inadequacy, and on the physical state of the schools.
But the real story concerns a lone, often absent and usually aberrant figure of both hope and dread in poor neighborhoods: the father. Recent studies show that huge numbers of children, particularly African-American, not only lack fathers at all, but have mothers raising children from a number of different males. This is too often the reason for domestic violence against children and babies, usually by fathers of the other children.
President Obama did delve into this important moral problem in a 2008 speech in Chicago, in which he said: "Children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime, nine times more likely to drop out of school and 20 times more likely to end up in prison." But he has not attacked this fount of crime and social dysfunction as much as he should and could have. Especially now, he needs not fear this makes him "too black" for whites.
It is mothers who give children unconditional love and acceptance, and it is fathers who should be teaching exactly the moral and ethical behavior that is missing in our inner cities.
But many of our young mothers are also doing little for the moral makeup of the nation. Illegitimacy is about 80 percent among blacks, and now roughly 40 percent among whites. Movie stars and others in the public spotlight take egocentric pride in having babies out of wedlock and parading them publicly.
I would like to see the word "single," when it pertains to child-raising, banned from our lexicon. By using it interchangeably with "unmarried," "widowed," "engaged" and a host of other more precise terms about sexual or marital status, we have made one-parent households perfectly acceptable, whether a woman lost her husband in war or whether a 14-year-old in the ghetto already has two children by different men.
Indeed, the 2012 State of Our Unions report of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, "The President's Marriage Agenda for the Forgotten Sixty Percent," speaks of the disappearance of marriage in "middle America" happening at the same time as the disappearance of the middle class in the same communities, striking "at the very heart of the American Dream."
Though others may not see it as I do, our situation in Afghanistan is yet another example of a soft issue gone mad.
There have been some 50 shootings or bombings of American and NATO troops in Afghanistan by Afghans, almost always by the Western-trained Afghan army. The American generals there ask, "Why ... why?" Yet the answer is rather easy: They do not like us. Should it really be so surprising that from Cuba, to Iraq, to Afghanistan, locals do not appreciate foreigners invading and lording it over them? What a surprise!
I consider this a soft issue because essentially it comes down to understanding "the other." And in places like Afghanistan, the other is damn hard to understand.
We have also the problem of the volunteer army. We are clouding much of the reality of Afghanistan with unending, effusive praise of our fighting men and women. They are not soldiers; they are "warriors." This is a way for the 99 percent of the population that plays no part at all in these foolhardy wars to excuse themselves and move on.
Here is another soft issue just beginning to get the attention it deserves. Brian Michael Jenkins recently wrote in the RAND Corp. journal that technological advance, increased global competition and a lack of advanced education have combined to mire a significant portion of the population in "permanent unemployment" or low-paying jobs at best.
Jenkins, who has long been a brilliant voice on international terrorism and on change in general, has something here. And if at least part of our high unemployment rate is due to Americans not being educated or able to do the jobs that are available, then we are in for some very serious days ahead.
So as we dive into the new year, I would humbly suggest: Don't think hard about the great issues of our times -- think SOFT.