Have We Forgotten How to Be Americans?

We didn't go over the cliff, but we face 2013 with differing visions of where our nation should go.

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Another important aspect of this clash is cultural, underscored by emerging and still-changing views on same-sex marriage, abortion, immigration, right-to-work laws, collective bargaining and a host of issues that will ultimately transform the very character of the nation.

Americans are also witnessing a historic nationalization of their health care system. Last summer a 5-to-4 Supreme Court majority, to the surprise of many (especially conservatives), ruled that President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) was constitutional, and the president’s re-election eliminated any chance that the law would be repealed.

Nonetheless, transitioning from a system based on the doctor-patient relationship, patient choices, pricing freedom and private-sector competition to an expensive, government-controlled structure — many components of which have yet to be implemented or even created — will shake the foundation of the republic. Trust me.

Government control of doctors, hospitals and medical-care providers will tighten, while the operations of private insurance companies will be restricted. Health care rationing, especially for seniors, will occur, while the bipartisan work required to save and protect the solvency of Medicare and Social Security for future generations will largely remain undone.

A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll says that just 40 percent of Americans describe themselves as hopeful about the course of events in 2013, while 56 percent describe themselves as fearful. Because our leaders so far refuse to address what truly ails our nation, we could fall off a real cliff. There ought to be very real angst over the collapse of effective, long-term public policymaking in Washington and in our state capitals because of the ongoing clashes between the “red” and “blue” states,” the right and the left, progressives and conservatives.

In the midst of our journey to the cliff, we’ve forgotten how to be Americans.

My hope for 2013 is that our leaders realize that and, through their leadership, set our feet on firmer ground.

Michael Steele is the former chairman of the Republican National Committee and served as lieutenant governor of Maryland from 2003 to 2007. He is currently a political analyst for MSNBC.

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