American tough love

Recently, a number of big media outlets have done stories on whether America is on the decline. Which rang true to some progressives and offensive to staunch believers in American exceptionalism. How about this…America is exceptional….and in a stage of decline…at the moment.

Peggy Noonan has this provocative column in the WSJ. It was troubling, and only partly because it was true.

Our republic is not now in a historical adventure period—that is not what is needed. We are or should be in a self-strengthening one. Our focus should not be on outward involvement but inner repair…

We have always felt pride in our nation’s ways, and pride isn’t all bad. But conceit is, and it’s possible we’ve grown as conceited as we’ve become culturally careless.

We are modern, they are not. We allow women freedom, they do not. We have the rule of law, they do not. We are technologically sophisticated, they are the Flintstones. We have religious tolerance. All these are sources of legitimate satisfaction and pride, especially the last. Our religious pluralism is, still, amazing.

Thank God for that.

We have much to be proud of. And we know it. But take a look around us. Don’t we have some reasons for pause, for self-questioning? Don’t we have a lot of cultural repair that needs doing?

Without question.

But here’s how it feels right now….

America’s mood is low, beyond everything Noonan cites.

Americans are more pessimistic about the nation’s economic outlook and overall direction than they have been at any time since President Obama’s first two months in office, when the country was still officially ensnared in the Great Recession, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll…

Capturing what appears to be an abrupt change in attitude, the survey shows that the number of Americans who think the economy is getting worse has jumped 13 percentage points in just one month. Though there have been encouraging signs of renewed growth since last fall, many economists are having second thoughts, warning that the pace of expansion might not be fast enough to create significant numbers of new jobs.

The dour public mood is dragging down ratings for both parties in Congress and for President Obama, the poll found.

After the first 100 days of divided government, and a new Republican leadership controlling the House of Representatives, 75 percent of respondents disapproved of the way Congress is handling its job.

Disapproval of Mr. Obama’s handling of the economy has never been broader — at 57 percent of Americans — a warning sign as he begins to set his sights on re-election in 2012.

So…two questions.

With two years of absolute control of Washington, why couldn’t the Democratic party get the budget worked out and economic renewal on track? It’s all mired in politics between the two parties. But it was in the hands of one party for two years, and didn’t get resolved.

And…where is the leadership? Where is the inspiration and where are the ideas that will ennoble people and fire up the zeal of a nation still capable of innovation and generosity and the courage to get rid of what is bad and build on what is good? Ms. Noonan’s diagnosis may be accurate, but it lacks a prescription. And America right now…heavy on the hollow rhetoric of hope…lacks the audacity to challenge its obstacles. We are not lacking heroes. We just suffer a terrible lack of heroes in high office.


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