Enough Already: Buck Up


So here’s Peggy Noonan today, telling us again that the American Dream seems to be dead. I really like Peggy Noonan; she’s a wonderful writer. But I’m not sure about this column. She seems to be suggesting that politicians need to take care of this American-Dreamlessness problem:

In Washington they don’t seem to be looking around and thinking, Hmmm, this nation is in trouble, it needs help. They’re thinking something else. I’m not sure they understand the American Dream itself needs a boost, needs encouragement and protection.

I’m sure our politicians leave much to be desired when it comes to optimism-pumping, but journalists need to be doing their part, too. The constant repetition of this theme in the press–It’s dead! The Dream is over! We’re so pessimistic! Our childrens’ lives will be materially impoverished, spiritually empty, nasty, brutish and short!–is getting on my nerves, and at its worst contains a self-fulfilling prophecy. A large part of recovery from an economic crisis–or a spiritual one–is psychological, after all, hence such phrases as “the animal spirits of the market,” and “nothing to fear but fear itself.”

I don’t see that there’s much strong support for the thesis that the American dream is an ex-parrot. America has endured graver economic crises, faced far more serious emergencies abroad and at home, and it’s always come out just fine, chiefly because the system is brilliantly designed for self-correction. I’m not suggesting the problems we face are trivial, far from it, but let’s have a bit of perspective.

The debate about immigration is an ancient one. It makes no sense to argue in the same column that the handful of Americans who are trading in their passports are an omen of American decline and to worry about the effect on American society of uncontrolled mass immigration. The latter is significant real evidence that this decline is overstated and the American Dream still very much alive: Why else would so many people want to move to America? They’re not stupid. Trust me, if the United States declared tomorrow “Free Green Card to Everyone” day, the lines outside US Embassies around the world would stretch halfway to the moon.

So buck up and stop whining, everyone.

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  1. Profile Photo Inactive

    For foreigners, sure, they’d sign up for the green card.

    Americans are a different lot.

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  2. Profile Photo Editor

    And I’d argue that those polls are cause for optimism. What do you think they suggest about the way the mid-term elections are going to go? Those numbers tell you some important things: Americans don’t care for radical economic experiments, and they wise up quickly when an administration tries to foist them on them. Good news.

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  3. Profile Photo Member

    …and come November we darn well better do some very serious self-correcting.

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  4. Profile Photo Editor

    And we darn well will. Carry on.

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  5. Profile Photo Coolidge

    Couldn’t agree with you more, Claire. Ms. Noonan needs to take a road trip out of the beltway to regain her sense of perspective. Her tone reminded me of the mournful end-is-nigh reporting on the oil spill this spring.

    Just came back from a family road trip from Florida to Ohio. Business is down, for sure, with more shuttered windows than in previous years. But everywhere we went people were working hard to preserve the business they had, and service was better (even in those dreaded off-ramp drive-through fast food restaurants!)

    We stayed 2 extra days at an older, half-empty Doubletree outside of Columbus, OH (they welcome 80 lb. family dogs) because we were so impressed with the housekeeping. Aging hallway floors were mopped by cheerful staff, stainless steel elevator buttons kept shiny, and as the kids swam I watched a housekeeper carefully clean underneath every single treadmill and hand weight in the small hotel gym. Took her 2 hours and she never took a break or complained.

    America is sloughing off dead weight right now, not dying. People are awake and aware, and if we can regain both houses better times are ahead.

    • #5
  6. Profile Photo Member
    Claire Berlinski: I’m sure our politicians leave much to be desired when it comes to optimism-pumping, but journalists need to be doing their part, too. The constant repetition of this theme in the press–It’s dead! The Dream is over! We’re so pessimistic! Our childrens’ lives will be materially impoverished, spiritually empty, nasty, brutish and short!–is getting on my nerves, and at its worst contains a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    I agree with you, Claire. That the press needs to do some self-examination concerning its affect on our nation’s psyche is so apparent. I find this particularly true with the recent oil spill disaster. More thoughtfulness and more reticence in predictions of the short-term effects would perhaps have protected the Gulf Coast businesses that have been so hurt by the crisis. I’m thinking in particular of the resorts on the coast that have dropped from the typical 80+% occupancy to the low 30s. And a johnny-come-lately stay by the Prez and his family is just that, too late.

    • #6
  7. Profile Photo Inactive

    Well, here’s the thing…I do think there’s a bit of a sense of malaise abroad in the land, but like the Carter Malaise, what’s going to turn it around is an aggressive change of policy. The government is going to have to stop forcing thing down peoples’ throats—this creates helplessness, anger, and Tea Parties. The government is going to have to stop threatening massive tax hikes—this causes economic paralysis. The government has got to get a handle on debt service and entitlements—they actively cause people to worry about their children’s ability to do as well as they do. The government is going to have to present a forward-looking foreign policy with goals to reassure people we aren’t adrift in the world at the mercy of everyone from terrorists to the PLA.

    But this isn’t something the current crew in D.C. can do. The Democrats have largely fallen into a Leftist mindset where we need less America in the world and more State at home, and the GOP has been philosophically adrift since…I dunno, Phil Gramm’s campaign going down in flames?

    • #7
  8. Profile Photo Inactive

    Buuuuuut…you’re absolutely right that the press—which, if JournoList is any indication, seems to constitute a left-wing pressure group—has a lot to answer for. Their systematic running down of the economy, our foreign policy, emphasizing war casualties, etc., whenever a Republican president is in office is corrosive not just to Republican support but people’s optimism in general. Usually, when a Democrat gets elected, Happy Days Are Here Again™, but the Obama Administration has been so disappointing, they’re turning their fire on the country as being unworthy of him, so the demoralizing spiral continues. I would argue, though, that the factors above are actual problems that do alienate people…at least in my neck of the woods.

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  9. Profile Photo Member

    I like Peggy, but I was also bothered by today’s column. I think she’s right to recognize this feeling that’s building–and it would be dangerous for our leaders or wanna-be leaders to not take it into account–but I’m not sure her suggested response is any more helpful than what we already having going on. This is the atmosphere (and the thinking) that led to the “malaise” speech that all but did Carter in and that apparently the Obama administration has never bothered to read. I can’t help but think that vigorous optimism is what we need, on the ground and in the offices. I think candidates who are willing to stake their victories entirely on the idea that the best is still ahead of us stand to go a lot further. We’re going to course-correct in November but more from a place of anger, I think. The GOP has yet to present much else. But I think they will, given a bit more time. I hope they will. Cause I think the man or woman who does stands to gain an awful lot…

    • #9
  10. Profile Photo Inactive

    I’m inclined to think that the government bureaucracy is major part of the problem

    I agree 100 percent, Jim. However, the deeper reality is that, even if conservatives are 100 percent successful in the elections, how much realistically are we going to see the bureaucracy cut back? And if it is not cut back, isn’t the economic crisis only going to get worse over time? And in time won’t that cause people to turn in desperation to government solutions? Conservatives have the short-run edge but liberals have the long-term edge.

    I think we need to make the free market even more productive to overcome the weight of today’s bureaucratic state. My field is investing and I believe that we are capable of huge advances by opening our minds to new ideas there. But I am sure other people have other ideas. We definitely need an optimistic approach. Gloom and doom is nowheresville. But we have to be responsive to the real concerns that are being felt too. We need exciting new ideas. The same old/same old doesn’t do the trick anymore.


    • #10
  11. Profile Photo Inactive

    Claire you are correct. But Sowell says that this November’s election is as important for America’s future as was the Battle of Poitiers for Europe’s future.

    So. all you yanks, get out and WORK, VOLUNTEER, be around the polling booth on voting day to make sure it’s honest, and… VOTE. And you lawyers, finally you can actually be useful: ensure lawfulness at the polling booths; and ensure that overseas military votes are COUNTED. The mantra should be, “No More Al Franken type hanky-panky!”

    Also. I purchased a copy of Claire’s brother’s book. I hope it has a happy ending!

    • #11
  12. Profile Photo Inactive

    I’m with Peggy Noonan. I think conservatives make a big mistake to ignore the deep concerns being felt by middle-class Americans as to whether our system still works.

    There’s a strong feeling today that the liberals have overreached and that will work temporarily to the benefit of conservatives. But what happens when the economic crisis continues for several more years? People will be desperate for solutions and, if liberals are the only ones offering them, many will turn in that direction.

    What solutions are conservatives offering? We oppose expanded government and we support the free market. That’s good. But there must be something wrong with the free market today or we wouldn’t be in this mess. That’s the commonsense thought that is going through people’s minds.

    Can the free market be improved? Are there aspects of it that need to be fixed? If there are, it is those who love the free market who should be jumping in and making changes. We cannot just oppose what liberals favor. We need to have a positive message of our own.


    • #12
  13. Profile Photo Inactive

    There is something eerily common about dispassionately describing, often in painstaking detail, a startling realization. How many times have you: (1) heard your sister discussing every agonizing ache and pain she felt during her sixteen-hour delivery? (2) greeted your non-descript neighbor as he highlights a gruesome car wreck he saw on the way home; or, (3) caught a documentary of Jack The Ripper with a British journalist that chronicles each dismemberment with the skill of a physician.

    You could argue that we are drawn to the sensational or maybe it is just that the sensational is easier to absorb than the real issue. Peggy Noonan’s article strikes me this way. The truth is my sister can’t describe elation at seeing her child the first time, my neighbor can’t articulate his identification with the accident victim and the British narrator can’t capture the fear of barbaric, nonsensical murders. Noonan’s cross to bear is putting into words the massive buyer’s remorse this country feels about a system which yielded complete ineptitude. She falls decidedly short.

    Victor Davis Hansen taps into it in his recent articles.

    • #13
  14. Profile Photo Member
    Rob Bennett: But there must be something wrong with the free market today or we wouldn’t be in this mess. That’s the commonsense thought that is going through people’s minds.

    I’m inclined to think that the government bureaucracy is major part of the problem (although I would agree some regulation has value), and that this bureaucracy has a huge negative effect on the cost of doing business and the entreprenurial spirit among industry and enterprise – both important factors in a healthy economy. Not saying I’m right, but that’s what I think.

    But for the sake of argument, if Mr. Bennett is correct that the public has lost faith in both government and free markets, how does a conservative combat such a mindset?

    • #14
  15. Profile Photo Member

    Sorry, Claire – maybe you are too far away to have the pulse of middle America. I lived in DC all my life until 3 years ago when I moved to Texas. I have a degree in economics from an elite institution on the east coast. Since this administration put the pedal to the metal on deficit spending, and launched its demonization of business rhetoric I live in DREAD of the massive debt we are piling up. Unless we plan to default, our children and theirs will be staggering under the weight of unprecedented debt. And they will have to pay that debt back from the proceeds of economies that grow at a fraction of the rate we have been used to in our lifetimes. What impresses me about middle America is that they don’t need an economics degree to understand the implications of what Washington is doing – and they are as a consequence increasingly angry about what is unfolding. I moved to Texas to escape the nanny state. Now, Texas is under assault- from Obamacare and the education bailouts and the unemployment extensions – to either jump on the runaway spending train or forego its fair share of federalincome taxes

    • #15

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