We Must Reignite America's Can-Do Spirit
Mortimer B. Zuckerman
What happened to the
It was exhilarating to watch. Some 50 years ago, approximately 50 percent of the top quartile of the graduating classes of major Canadian universities sought to move to
How much dimmer are the outside views of America today and how deflated Americans themselves feel! Much of the public dialogue is about decline and recession and the dysfunctions of the political processes at all levels, so much so that even the normally buoyant people despair of our capacity to address the major issues of the day.
If there is one symptom of this breakdown of America's competency and pragmatism, it is the monumental failure to address the exploding deficits and debts. They not only burden the country today but will clearly weigh even more heavily in the future, given the demographics. Today we add
We know that with 79 million baby boomers now beginning to retire, our fiscal future is as dire as our fiscal present. Our situation brings to mind a character in an
We didn't get into this mess in the last three years. We have been wading deeper into it for a decade. I was hardly alone in worrying that we were going in the wrong direction: I began to bore myself by writing so often, as others did, about the escalating deficits that
The natural ebullience of the American people has evaporated. People feel there is a vacuum at the heart of the country. The president has been enjoying a small rise in his approval ratings, still under 50 percent, but that's mostly a reflection of unease about the uncertain Republican leadership that can't make up its mind on the payroll tax relief: No, maybe yes, but make that no. The mood of the country is a mix of exasperation and exhaustion with
It's such a stark contrast to the can-do era. According to a recent Hill poll, almost 70 percent of respondents say the country is in decline; 83 percent indicated they are very or somewhat concerned about the future of the nation, and more than two thirds see the past decade as a period of decline. A country long celebrated for optimism amid adversity is having trouble finding the spirit that saw it through times that were, in fact, much more menacing. Nothing, you would think, could induce and sustain long dark periods of depression, fear, and anxiety more than the prospect of the annihilation of all human life in a nuclear exchange. That fear was never absent in the 40 years of confrontations with the
There is much about America that ought to cheer us.
It is a chilling commentary on the level of our national confidence that having attracted the brightest and the best, we don't let them stay and work here. We must reconceptualize immigration as a recruiting opportunity to improve our human capital. It is crazy not to give permanent visas to the young Chinese, Indians, Brazilians, and Europeans who are job creators, not job destroyers, and want to stay here. We've known it for years, but there isn't the national will to overcome a xenophobia that has so long frustrated the best efforts of the left and right wings to create a sound immigration policy. Sadly, it was something of a sensation when
We need all the brains we can attract. We have lost our lead in large-scale, high-tech manufacturing and watched almost helplessly as uncontrolled outsourcing to
We cannot be unaware of the erosion of our industrial base and the shift of manufacturing jobs to
Alas, economic policy, as well as social policy, has been suborned by ideology. What was politically possible 40 years ago is now out of the question. The private sector continues to form thousands of start-ups that keep us at the cutting edge of many of the emerging product areas. But
Political ideology, this time from the right, has again interfered with the long tradition of public investment to create the conditions for private industrial growth. The transcontinental railway and the superhighways alike required public investment approved by Republican presidents (Lincoln and Eisenhower) of the kind today's Republicans would regard as anathema. Without government investment initially, we'd not have had the original scientific breakthroughs such as genomic knowledge, information technologies, and the GPS network, nor the Internet where the
The public instinctively understands that something is deeply wrong, that liberals refuse to acknowledge that we must live within our means and that government can be part of the problem. Capitalism, after all, has been at the center of our prosperity and economic growth. Conservatives refuse to acknowledge that economic and social imbalances threaten our society and our union and that business can be part of the problem, as
Emerson once asserted that Americans should be plain living and high thinking. But if it was plain thinking it was also high living.
As we embark on this process of unwinding our excesses and reigniting our economy, the American public is looking for a renewal and a leadership that will eschew the emotional slogans of the extremes, the ideologies of left and right long alien to American life. The president we need should be unafraid to get booed, willing to risk a dip in the polls, eager even to wrestle with issues like immigration and public welfare. The candidate who deserves to win should be the one who will be straight with us. He won't toe this or that party line, but he will try anything consistent with our values that restores our national belief in ourselves.
Well, they've been exhausted.
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We Must Reignite America's Can-Do Spirit | Politics
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