A preliminary inquiry. Contributions by W. James Antle III, John Bolton, Midge Decter, Stefan Halper, Matt Latimer, Seth Lipsky, David Malpass, William McGurn, and Jeremy Rabkin.
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Does America have weaknesses? You bet. We are spending beyond our means, and saddling our children with the bill. We seem to be in danger of producing the first generation of Americans whose educational attainments are lower than their parents’. The social dysfunctions of the inner cities are well known, and many of our once-proud states are languishing. Meanwhile, overseas, we remain in Afghanistan 10 years after we started, with the outcome as elusive as ever.
We also have tremendous strengths. When you look at a country such as China, and see all the things it is doing right, it’s easy to be glum. But our universities and companies still attract talent from around the world. We’re still highly productive. And we have found since September 11 that there are still enough Americans willing to step forward to keep us safe and free, no matter that it will put their own lives in peril.
These are not small things. We have nowhere near the problems that, say, Europe has, either in terms of debt or assimilating newcomers. And as we are seeing in the new Republican leaders, we seem to have a unique capacity to regenerate ourselves just when things look their darkest. Who would have thought that the resurgence of the movement for smaller, more accountable government would be led by New Jersey and Wisconsin?
Ronald Reagan was always called an optimist, and for good reason. But too many assume that his optimism was a form of Panglossian dreaming. To the contrary, Reagan was not so much perpetually cheerful — see his “Time for Choosing Speech,” his “Bear in the Woods” ads, his use of the “misery index” against Jimmy Carter — as confident, confident that Americans could overcome any challenge. Without denying the many serious challenges facing our society, I see no reason to doubt that confidence today.
William McGurn is the Main Street columnist for the Wall Street Journal.
Whoever is not worried about America’s future is not paying attention. Or is willfully shutting his eyes, stopping his ears, and holding his nose. It’s not just the staggering debt burdens — and the still more staggering cost increases we face from health care and retirement entitlements. We seem incapable of addressing these challenges in serious political debate. Even modest spending restraints — or, at the state level, modest curbs on public employee unions — provoke near hysterical political resistance.
We’ve seen how this plays out in Europe. Among other things, military budgets get more and more tightly squeezed and ensuing anxieties assuaged with cheerful talk about international understanding and shrewd diplomacy to fill the gaps. Politicians explore subsidy schemes or regulatory gimmicks to prop up failing industries and rely on foreign bureaucratic monitors — at the European Commission in Brussels or the WTO in Geneva — to avert excessive mischief. Successive programs to “restore competitiveness” or “invest in new technology” are trumpeted — and then forgotten. People learn to cope with decline by lowering their expectations.
But we can hope that America wrenches itself back before its national capacities erode much further. We’ll certainly face some painful wake-up calls in the next few years. When investors demand much higher interest premiums for holding U.S. debt, when we face a new international crisis and the UN or NATO are back to their customary paralysis, we may hope for a serious political response. Europeans have been lulled with the thought that the EU or, in the last resort, the U.S. would rescue them from their own incapacities. The American people are not going to be reassured by wistful assurances about rescue by foreign friends.
Jeremy Rabkin is professor of law at George Mason University School of Law.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?