To-do list for Uncle Sam

The past year has been a tough one for our Uncle Sam, what with terrorism, war, a slumping economy and all the rest. In fact, the old guy has become downright paranoid and self-destructive, and we’re getting more than a bit worried about him.

We all knew the September 11 terrorist attacks would change the world, but we didn’t know they would change our uncle in such profound ways. Maybe we’re naive, but we always liked to think of him as one of the good guys. Sure, there was Vietnam, a nuclear-arms race that brought us all to the brink of total annihilation once or twice, support for the Shah, Iran-Contra and probably a lot more things we don’t even know about. But this was still the country that defeated fascism, rebuilt Europe and Japan after World War II, outlasted the Soviet empire, eradicated polio and invented rock ’n’ roll. For all its faults, we still couldn’t think of a greater nation.

But since September 11, Uncle Sam hasn’t been himself. He’s nullified constitutional rights that people spent 200 years defending. He’s bullied friends and allies, and he launched a pre-emptive war in defiance of our long-held tradition of using American military might only as a last resort. He’s become a maverick, aggressor nation, and it doesn’t suit him at all.

But it’s not too late to get back on track. Because we’re starting a new year, we thought a list of resolutions might be in order. Here’s our to-do list for Uncle Sam in 2004:

• Repeal the Patriot Act: You won’t defeat terrorism by scrapping the Constitution, signing away Americans’ rights and granting the president unprecedented powers that are certain to be abused.

• Hand over control of Iraq to a coalition run by the United Nations: The unilateral invasion, the failure to discover evidence of any weapons of mass destruction and the shameless profiteering by corporations with direct links to the Bush administration have convinced a lot of people that the war was nothing more than an act of naked aggression on behalf of big business. It’s time to prove your critics wrong.

• Choose better friends: It’s an open secret that you supported Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Manuel Noriega and other ruthless thugs when it seemed in your interest to do so. You need to be much, much more discriminating.

• Sign the Kyoto accord: As the world’s sole remaining superpower and the consumer of such a disproportionate share of the world’s resources, you need to show leadership on environmental issues. Start here.

• Begin planning for the future: While you’ve been off spending hundreds of billions in Iraq, problems back home have only gotten worse. You need to reinvest in health care, education and Social Security before you undertake any further adventures abroad.

The coming year will be a big challenge for ol’ Sam, but it’s nothing he can’t handle. Underneath it all, he’s still the greatest, and we should all do what we can to get him back on track.