Two events of recent days have combined … at least in my head … to show we homo sapiens at our best. And worst.

One was the victorious outcome for the people of Egypt as they reached for freedom and more individual control over their lives. Their all-or-nothing risk of life and heritage was put on the line against a dictator with an army who had abridged human rights for three decades. And without formal leadership or guns, they prevailed. We may marvel at what they did … and how they did it … but we will never really feel the exultation amidst the tears of happiness as fully as they have. It was mesmerizing!

As for the worst, it can be summed up in four words: Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). As someone raised in an old and honorable Republican family, I could feel only disgust and shame for nearly all who appeared there and for their inane speeches. The miraculous events in Egypt … a nation’s struggle for freedom and independence, themes which used to be cornerstones of conservative thinking … passed largely unnoticed and without significant comment.

There seemed to be an effort by the “presidential” hopefuls who showed up to pander to the worst and ignore the best. One after another came to the podium and the national TV cameras with little more than verbal garbage to pile on the table. It was four days of wallowing in tripe that showed these supposed Republican leaders as vacuous and without anything to offer to deal with our current issues.

Though Mike Huckabee skipped the whole inglorious affair, he followed up a few days later by exhibiting a similar lack of perspective. “The issue of abortion trumps all others,” he told a national TV audience.

Abortion? Really? Here all along I thought abortion was a social and family matter. And that something as dangerous to national survival as our overwhelming debt needed our full attention. And that we should be putting maximum political effort to greatly reduce unemployment somewhere near the top of our issues. Silly, silly me.

If Democrats have proven nothing else politically in the past two years it is that “we the people” are focused on jobs and a better economy. Democrats did not profit … nor will Republicans … by inserting social issues on their agenda.

I grew up with a political dynamic that no longer exists and we are the poorer because it disappeared. That was the healthy tension created by two strong, vibrant political parties that proposed, discussed and argued issues important to our nation and … somehow … got to a consensus like reasonable adults. Each stood for something. Each had an identity voters could recognize and make an informed choice of which to support. We had a balance that kept us on track. A healthy tension. And it caused me to vote a “split ticket” for many years,

Republicans aren’t alone in this deterioration of our political health and dialogue. There has been plenty of Democrat erosion to add to the mix. It’s just that Republicans put it in prime time on national TV to display the worst of their ilk. The uninformed and sometimes equally noxious Democrats seem happier in smaller, private embarrassments.

To me, Ronald Reagan and Bush The Elder were the last Republican leaders to have clear personal and political positions that defined them and which gave the nation a choice. They knew what “loyal opposition” meant. They proposed as well as opposed. They didn’t take personal aim at someone and announce to the country “We’re gonna make him fail and then run him out of office.” No “gotcha” politics dominating efforts to try to find solutions to national problems. Did “gotcha” politics exist? Sure. But not as part of formal speeches by leadership on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

If any of those who appeared at CPAC … and the others of like mind who didn’t … end up with the Republican presidential nomination, my guess is Pres. Obama will get his second term by a comfortable margin. Because it’s not enough to oppose what he and his administration have done or will do. It’s necessary to propose something as an alternative. To date, I’ve heard nothing from the Republican Party in the way of ideas, concepts, proposals that I could get behind. No positive position telling me these folk understand where we are and what they would do to get us going again.

On one hand, we’ve watched Egyptians saying to themselves “We want this, that and the other and we’re going to go for it even if we die in the attempt.”

On the other, CPAC has presented us a baker’s dozen of people who can’t seem to rise above trash-talking and empty rhetoric to say “We understand what the nation faces and we have these ideas to apply to the solutions.” Not one.

Personally, I’d have felt safer in front of an Egyptian tank in Cairo than I do with CPAC’s best.

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