How do we achieve America’s mission statement?

Alex Beehler Contributor
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During the past 32 years, I have had the insightful opportunity to work in both public and private sectors in roughly equal portions of time impositions all based inside the Beltway.

My public sector service included counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, career legal positions at Departments of Justice and Education, and political appointments at U.S. EPA and most recently at DoD. In the private sector, I was affiliated with several law firms, a corporate think-tank, and the second-largest U.S. private corporation and a related foundation. Such variety of professional experiences exposed me to myriads of operational and management structures and bureaucracies with disparate arrays of missions, goals, and identifying “success” in job and office.

From an early age, I have been fascinated with our country’s history, particularly surrounding its founding. As I developed my career path, I was inspired to live by and support the principles and beliefs upon which the United States of America was formed out of our Revolution from British colonialism 235 years ago. This inspiration led me to concentrate in public and international affairs in college, pursue a law degree, and then come to Washington, D.C., for government service.

After more than three decades in our nation’s capital, the seat of government birthed with Thomas Jefferson’s ringing cry of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence, I can timely reflect how our country’s mission statement formulated in 1776 is implemented today in the complex structure that is contemporary American governance and society.

In consideration of this question, a corollary concern is the appropriate balance of freedom and security in our nation’s governance and society. If our country’s mission is assuring “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” of individuals living in America, does increased security throughout our society impose decreased freedom? A related factor is how “security” in our society is defined. Is there a difference, for instance, of security from terrorism versus security from ill-health? How conscious are our governing bodies of Mr. Jefferson’s historic national goals as they attempt “good government?” And what, in fact, is “good government?”

These issues and concepts will be the core basis of discussion in future posts. As a point of departure, our society currently has strayed greatly from our national mission statement of 1776. For instance, as a symbolic manifestation, a recent Harris Poll (Dec.7-14, 2009. 2,2276 adults) posed the following query: “Who is to blame for your financial troubles?” Democrats responded: Wall Street, Large Corporations, and Congress (each garnered 70% or above).

Republicans responded: Congress, the President, and Wall Street (each registered 64% or above). Yet, only 30% of Democratic and 35% of Republican respondents blamed themselves. If our contemporary society were successfully implementing the 1776 mission statement such that we has individuals recognized sufficient freedom to control our own well-being, a clear majority should accept personal responsibility and blame themselves for any personal financial troubles.

But what if the poll had asked, “Who is responsible for your financial success?” Gut instinct suggests that respondents, regardless of partisan persuasion, would have credited themselves first and foremost. While a basic tenet of human nature is take credit for success and blame others for failure, there are, nevertheless, wonderful aspects of our society and governance that propel us beyond base cynicism and provide a clear road map for our country today to fulfill the 1776 mission statement. Let’s explore.

Alex Beehler is the Assistant Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Environment, Safety & Occupational Health) at the United States Department of Defense.