What Didn't Get Covered in Philadelphia

Yeah, yeah, I know that there are all sorts of punch-line endings you could give to the headline above. (I'm talking about the city of my birth, so of course I kid because I love.) But here is the non-joke point I have in mind:

A ceremony ten days ago at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia got a lot of (virtual) ink because of the misadventures of the actress Kim Delaney. YouTube video explaining that situation is tucked discreetly after the jump.

But the ostensible reason for the ceremony, and the person whom Delaney was introducing, went virtually unmentioned in the accounts. I won't belabor that contrast -- a semi-scandal involving a comely celebrity wearing a sequined dress, trumping a doughy policy point about a gent in his late 60s wearing a suit -- but wanted to say more about the policy point.

The ceremony at the Constitution Center was in honor of Robert Gates, who received the Liberty Medal for his service at the Pentagon and the CIA. In his relatively brief speech, Gates made a point of surprising bluntness that has remarkable force considering the times and events he has lived through. He was talking about the state of American self-government, and he said:

>>I do believe that we are now in uncharted waters when it comes to the dysfunction in our political system--and it is no longer a joking matter.

It appears that as a result of several long-building, polarizing trends in American politics and culture, we have lost the ability to execute even the basic functions of government [debt ceiling, appropriations, infrastructure-maintenance - JF] much less solve the most difficult and divisive problems facing the country [you name it].

Thus, I am more concerned than I have ever been about the state of American governance.<<

You can read a PDF of the speech or see a video of Gates delivering it. The only real coverage of it I saw was in Philly.com by Steve Frank of the Constitution Center.

I don't agree with every single thing Robert Gates has done and said through his public career, but I agree with most of it. I specifically recognize how carefully he has always chosen his public words. Many times in this space I've noted his impressive speeches as Secretary of Defense, for instance this and this. For such a person to say plainly that the American government has lost its basic ability to function, and that he is more concerned than he has ever been about this issue is ... well, it's worth more notice than it's received so far.

Now, for the performance that did dominate accounts out of Philadelphia:

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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