Currently at risk is not just our 'way of life', or our 'lifestyle', but the citizen's ability to trust nearly every institutional body organized to facilitate our national and communal life.
Whether its Jack Abramoff or Tom Delay, whether its Enron or AIG, Bernard Madoff, Illinois governor Rod Blagojevitch, or Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson, there is a real danger when mixed with the our fiscal woes, that, what appeared to be the death of apathy and the birth of hope, can give way to resignation and disillusionment.
Americans can handle imperfections in their leaders. I think we've long since gotten used to the idea that, generally speaking, paragons of puritanical virtue are found in very few of leaders. This is not cynicism, it is a fact. While held to a higher standard, we also know, or suspect, their imperfections. Our leaders come from among us. And often they are the ones who are left out front when the rest of us retreat when challenges arise.
But greed, exploitation, selfishness, insensitivity, the failure to work for the public good or fulfill the responsibilities of office, collusion and corruption, are among the things which cause Americans to lose faith in government, commerce and the institutions which impact the lives of our families and communities.
The collateral damage is worse than loss of trust in our public institutions: when we no longer trust our institutions, its only a matter of time before we lose faith in one another.
Many of you have no doubt seen the movie, 'The Candidate'. It is a movie about a candidate for national office who struggles to maintain his personal integrity, being true to his values and his campaign promises. The candidate, played by Robert Redford, almost loses himself in the contest, and finally decides to be himself and run the race he really wants to run.
Much to his surprise (and that of his staff) he wins!
The closing scene finds him sitting on his hotel room bed, bewildered and shocked while everyone around him is celebrating wildly. His campaign manager is leaving to go join the cheering crowd outside the hallway. Redford looks up and asks him, 'What do I do now?'
Our president-elect, may never quite have experienced his bewilderment in quite the same way. But if he ever has asked that question, in whatever form, I know what I would tell him: throughout the campaign, you helped millions of people believe and believe again. The tallest order for your presidency is not the economy, nor the world, nor is it world peace.
The tallest order is to keep us believing.