While President Bush and his cheering section beat their breasts about the nobility of trying to create a democracy at the point of a gun in far-off Iraq, one of the most crucial domestic interests of Americans is sliding into dismal mediocrity and jeopardizing the nation's future character.
When the president speaks, he should spare a little time to tell the nation why it should deprive the young of a good education and neglect its infrastructure to spend more billions in Iraq.
In a new study, the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education draws an alarming conclusion: The United States has fallen behind other nations in college enrollment and college graduations as the tuition costs of higher education outstrip the stagnant income of U.S. families.
(Access the complete report at http://measuringup.highereducation.org with links to standings of all states.)
The jarring indicator: While the United States leads the world in college degrees among 35- to 64-year-olds, the nation is seventh among developed countries for 25- to 34-year-olds, and among the lower half of developed nations in college completions.
The upshot, center president Patrick M. Callan predicts grimly, is that "perhaps for the first time in our history, the next generation will be less educated."
Imagine the staggering cultural, social and economic tremors this could create.
A less-educated generation of Americans would be shorthanded in mastering more sophisticated technologies spreading throughout the workplace. More U.S. service jobs would be outsourced to foreign workers. Fewer Americans would have the multi-language skills required for conducting diplomacy and commerce in the global interaction of nations.
In addition, the less educated ultimately would fuel expansion of government social services for the unemployable.
If the president's strategy in Iraq isn't quickly more effective or abandoned, then more national treasure will vanish into the dark hole of Iraq.
Beyond the dismaying decline in college completions and the ultimate dark consequences, the billions after billions of dollars being thrown with reckless abandon into the Iraqi cauldron are desperately needed for an array of other critical homeland programs.
Americans should be properly outraged with the report of the American Society of Civil Engineers, which annually assesses the condition of the nation's infrastructure (dams, bridges, roads, transit, airports, parks, schools, wastewater disposal, energy, railroads, and the like).
The current condition: an average grade of D, with at least $1.6 trillion needed over five years to bring facilities up to par.
President Bush and his Congress have a lot of explaining to do. It's time to get started or turn over the reins to leaders with better ideas and strategies.