Posted by: adoseofliberty | January 1, 2010

Dead in the Water

Daniel Henninger sums up the 00’s in the Wall Street Journal editorial page:

Why pretend? We have arrived at a point where nearly everyone’s conversation of more than five minutes about what is going on in the nation or the world ends up in the ditch.

The opinion polls are deep into the no-holiday spirit, competing to deliver low blows to the American psyche. Pew Research Center began dim December with a survey titled “Current Decade Rated Worst in 50 Years.” Washington Post/ABC staggered in with the bad word that 61% of the American people think their country is in long-term decline.

The U.S. is starting to sound like one long Rodney Dangerfield joke: “I looked up the family tree and found out I was the sap.”

Why the long national face?

Pew’s numbers touched the heart of the past decade’s sense of sadness. Asked to identify the decade’s singular event, 53% said the attacks of September 11, 2001. Nothing else was close.

It is debated often whether 9/11’s sense of urgency about the threat of Islamic terror has faded. Apparently not for the American people. We’ll catch a break if the past week wakes up Washington.

If at its end the decade was looking for a silver lining, this one got the shaft—another gray September. In September 2008, the U.S. financial system for all intents and purposes blew up. Years of imprudently low interest rates and Congress’s political protection of bargain-basement mortgages decked the world in moral hazard. Cheap money was (is) crack for bankers. When the subprime mortgage mania blew, it took down much of Wall Street and a decade’s worth of 401(k) gains.

Let’s toss in the decade’s last straw just for the fun of it: The politicians running California, New York, New Jersey and arguably Congress were shown to be fiscally deranged. If America is in decline, its political class is leading it over the cliff.

Americans are historic optimists. They must be: Another recent study found that the happiest state in the Union is . . . Louisiana. Hurricanes, floods, wars, depression—somehow this country’s can-do spirit won’t die.

Until now. There is a datum in the pollsters’ 10-year ash heap that is disturbing and new. At the start of 2008, according to Pew, well before the September financial implosion, 41% said the U.S. was the world’s leading economic power; 30% said China. By this November, those numbers had flipped: 44% said China was on top; only 27% said the U.S.

However false this is, what people are saying is they assume China in time will clean our clock. This is a frightening snapshot of national demoralization.

It is a nation refusing to answer the bell. Throwing in the towel. We can’t compete. We’re done.

I don’t buy it. America isn’t dead. It’s just dead in the water.

In Pew’s comparison of five decades, one trumps the other four: the 1980s. “The balance of opinion about the 1980s is overwhelmingly positive across all age groups.” The 1980s’ negative rating is just 12%.

How can this be? As the ’80s ended, pundits everywhere famously wrote the whole thing off as “The Decade of Greed.” Left-wing essayist Barbara Ehrenreich, one of too many to count, called her version of the decade, “The Worst Years of Our Lives.”

But it looks like people think the ’80s were the best years of their lives. We—especially those among us thinking of running for the presidency—had better try to figure out why fast.

Because all conversation in our politics goes straight into rage if one brings any public figure’s name into it, I will preposterously not mention Ronald Reagan.

Forget greed. That was just an artifact, a side show. More than anything, the 1980s freed Americans to do the one thing they love to do above all else: create.

From day one many better decades ago, America has been about compulsive creation. It’s a nation driven by the New—new ideas, new cities, new companies, technologies, art forms, production, management, distribution, design, Hollywood, Tin Pan Alley, Silicon Valley.

Some of it’s good, some of it’s bad, some of it’s ugly. So what? This is the upward-moving mojo that Americans want to get them back in the game—the space to create, build and do what’s new. The big question raised by you-know-who in the 1980s was whether government was part of the solution to national creativity or part of the problem.

Time’s up, so let’s not spoil the downer spirit by ending with false optimism.

We are in the anti-1980s. But I don’t care how flat the earth is; with competitors like China, India and the others, the belief that our big fat national government can somehow subsidize, much less identify, the U.S.’s next creative edge is straight from the dusty book of the original flat-earth society.

So a New Year’s Eve prediction: If we stay on the course set the past year, the next decade will make the 2000s look like the end of the golden age.


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