Ready or not, every four years in campaign rhetoric we reexamine our national purpose and condition. When we do it right, there's a measure of repentance and renewal. For a few months, from grass roots to Oval Office we're tuned in to the good and bad vibes that we haven't coped with between times.
Politicians compete with worthy goals. We the people show concern for local and international responsibilities. The news media publish whatever's in the wind. It is perhaps the best period to raise our sights, to dampen our cynicism - not to turn our eyes from areas of shameful neglect or transgression, but to study and determine to improve them.
So saying, I voice my own concern, trusting that it finds a resonance in many a heart, conservative joining liberal. I see a shadow darkening our days, threatening our way of life more than any economic or international force: the lapse of commitment to individual and international integrity.
This is a country where all people (even Indians millenniums ago) have come from elsewhere - for religious, political, or economic freedom. Leaving all behind, they were prepared for an honest struggle to make a new life in the land that rewarded effort.
And we, their children, grew up believing with them in the morality of ourselves and our country. The few unworthy details left out of our history books didn't bother us. We could experience through radios and newspapers that we waged wars righteously, and waged peace with such generosity as the Marshall Plan.
In my suburban middle-class neighborhood, homes weren't broken into or parks vandalized, and no one I knew was divorced or had reason to be. We trusted the products we bought. We felt a moral tone permeating our lives. (Of course there were exceptions.)
In those days Hollywood held to a strict code, while occasionally picturing real-life seamy situations. Family magazines and newspapers carefully screened content and advertisements. (Good Housekeeping gave its ''seal of approval.'') Radio programs from one end of the dial to the other were ''wholesome.'' I was a grown woman before I was assaulted by the plethora of sensationalized news, grubby suggestiveness, and enticements to something-for-nothing that now spew forth from video tube, stereo speaker, and printed page.
Having known trust in country, family, and community, in the media and the market, I can judge between right and wrong, true and false. I may be offended, but am seldom fooled, tempted but not persuaded. But what of those who have not that solid background - youngsters whose formative years should ready them for quality in their lives? Immigrants who shouldn't learn here that ''anything goes''?
How can we revive the conscience and the self-respect that bolster our natural integrity? How dissolve the impression that the real crime is in getting caught?
How can we assure our hard-pressed leaders that no matter the situation, the ends don't justify the means? Representing us, they should maintain our integrity, with or without public knowledge.
Isn't demoralization of our national character an urgent issue for campaign-time examination? Shouldn't we all be part of a dialogue and a commitment to restore respect for integrity - to expect better of this educated, prospering, capable, essentially well-meaning people?