SYNDICATED COLUMN: Is America’s Decline Inevitable?

This November: The Pessimist vs. the Cynical Pessimist

This week, decline is on my brain. Specifically, the decline of America.

“There’s not a country on Earth that wouldn’t gladly trade places with the United States of America,” President Obama says, denying Republican assertions that the U.S. is in decline.

(I don’t know about that. Would sick people in the 36 nations that have better healthcare systems than the U.S. want to switch places?)

Clearly we believe our country is in decline—polls show that Americans think that the next generation will live worse than we do. Pessimism about the future is reflected in a 2011 survey in which 57 percent of the public identified the U.S. as the world’s most powerful nation, but just 19 percent thought that we’ll still be #1 20 years from now.

Now The New York Times reports that life expectancy for white people without a high-school degree fell precipitously between 1990 and 2007. It’s shocking news. “We’re used to looking at groups and complaining that their mortality rates haven’t improved fast enough, but to actually go backward is deeply troubling,” the newspaper quoted John G. Haaga, head of the Population and Social Processes Branch of the National Institute on Aging.

“The five-year decline for white women rivals the catastrophic seven-year drop for Russian men in the years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, said Michael Marmot, director of the Institute of Health Equity in London,” reports The Times.

Bear in mind, the study includes the Clinton boom of the 1990s. And it doesn’t include the period after 2007, when the global fiscal crisis set off the current depression. It’s almost certainly worse now.

Even the two major presidential candidates seem to think that the U.S. doesn’t have much of a future. During his “60 Minutes” interview on Sunday, President Obama was asked what his big idea was for his next term. Interviewer Steve Kroft mentioned the Marshall Plan and sending a man to the moon as examples of big ideas.

Obama ducked.

“I think there’s no bigger purpose right now than making sure that if people work hard in this country, they can get ahead,” replied Obama. “That’s the central American idea. That’s how we sent a man to the moon. Because there was an economy that worked for everybody and that allowed us to do that. I think what Americans properly are focused on right now are just the bread-and-butter basics of making sure our economy works for working people.” A nonsensical answer. Yes, we should strive to get back to the lower gap between rich and poor that existed during the 1960s—but lower income inequality didn’t create the space program.

All Obama has to offer is a vague desire to restore the American Dream. Sorry, Mr. President, but getting back something we used to take for granted is the opposite of a big idea.

Though depressing, Obama’s pessimism is dwarfed by Mitt Romney’s.

Romney’s 2011 tax returns reveal that not only did he bet against the value of the American dollar—a staggeringly unpatriotic move for a presidential candidate—he received a quarter of his income from investments in other countries.

Romney, putting his money where his mouth isn’t, is literally betting his millions that the U.S. economy will head south. That the dollar will lose value. That foreign equities will outperform U.S. stocks. He even bought shares in the Chinese state oil company, which has contracts with Iran

He’s worse than a hypocrite. He’s an economic traitor.

Whether better, worse, or the same as today, the U.S. has a future. Who will lead us into that future? The person or movement that can credibly articulate a positive vision of a United States that doesn’t stand still, but actually moves forward–you know, like Obama’s campaign slogan. But who and where are they?

This presidential campaign is shaping up as a race between a pessimist and a cynical pessimist, and in such a contest the mere pessimist is likely to win. But it isn’t good for us in the long run.

“Never have American voters reelected a president whose work they disapprove of as much as Barack Obama’s,” observes the Associated Press’ Bill Barrow. “Not that Mitt Romney can take much comfort—they’ve never elected a challenger they view so negatively, either.”

Obama has the edge in the polls, partly because he presents a less somber vision despite his lack of big ideas. (It helps that Romney is a terrible politician.)

“This is America. We still have the best workers in the world and the best entrepreneurs in the world. We’ve got the best scientists and the best researchers. We’ve got the best colleges and the best universities,” said the President in his “not in decline” remarks.  (Never mind that there’s no point going into debt to attend school if there aren’t any jobs when you graduate.)

Well, the United States IS rich. Staggeringly so. The problem is that our wealth has become so unevenly distributed that there is no longer enough consumer demand to support the population. It’s a like a marriage in which both spouses can make it work—if they change their attitudes. If we began focusing on the problems of poverty, unemployment and underemployment, as well as rising income and wealth inequality—i.e., economic injustice—and then fix them—we’ll be OK.

I don’t think we’ll be OK.

The U.S. doesn’t have to be in decline. Some liberal elites, like Fed chairman Ben Bernanke and investor Warren Buffett, understand the need to redistribute wealth. They’re one side of a split in the ruling classes. Unfortunately for the system and for many Americans, they’re losing the argument to greedpigs like Romney.

(Ted Rall‘s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at NBCNews.com’s Lean Forward blog.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

9 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: Is America’s Decline Inevitable?

  1. @Alex

    “If Romney wins, with a Senate and House united under the Republican banner, Romney will run the whole country into the ground. Within two years, things will be bread-line terrible.”

    Oh, far worse than that. if Romney wins, war with Iran is guaranteed, and that alone will send oil high enough into the stratosphere to wreck our economy. There will be shortages, and with them, riots. And there’s no doubt in my mind that Romney will go back to the playbook that served Bush so well and allow another terrorist attack on the US to succeed. Combine that with Supreme Court Justices who will enshrine into the Constiution every voter supression effort put forth by a GOP govenor- and you’re looking at tactics will practically guarantee victory for the GOP in 2014 and beyond.

    If Romney wins, whatever elections are held in 2016, if there are any at all (The right has been salivating for an excuse to drastically reduce voting, if not shut it down altogether, for ages- THIS IS THEIR PLAN), will be a sham.

    We cannot afford a Romney win. The price is too high.

    ” No one will be interested in listening to the explanations about how Obama couldn’t get anything done in his second term because those meanies in the House and Senate stopped him.”

    I call bull. Only among the far fringe left do people not appear to get that the real problem is Republican obstrunctionism. Out in the real world, the more the GOP obstructs, the more people are excited to get rid of them- those interested in making progress over stroking their own egos, at any rate.

    It is less and less in the real world (and more and more online) do I see the attitude that has doomed the far left to be an irrelevant, ignored fringe for the past 40 years-“I’m going to punish the Democrats for not achieving the unachievable in an impossible time frame.” The far fringe left is a decided minority, and they’ll remain an irrelevant, ignored, minority until they change their attitude.

    As for big ideas- when you have one party that has gone sociopathic, restoring the American Dream IS a big idea. Hungry, broke, unemployed people don’t give two shits about “big ideas.” Get the economy back on solid footing first (which will require the death of this incarnation of the Republican party), and then we can dream.

    The rest of us will be building a better world, one election at a time- even if we don’t get to see the results.

    @Ted
    As usual, you have it backwards- the Democrats are bad because the left stays home, not the other way around. The solution is MORE engagement, not less.

  2. Lucky us Ted. You live in a really blue state and I live in a really red state. It’s irrelevant if we vote for Bad or for Worse. It’s Ohio’s fault.

    I wonder if Rmoney’s supreme court appointees will approve of cavity searching OWSers.

  3. michaelwme,

    “So electing Obama (almost a certainty at this point) means four more years of the same appalling status quo, as opposed to four years of unmitigated disaster, followed by someone to the right of Romney.”

    Worse. Right now, the predictions are that Obama will win the presidency, the Republicans will hold the House, and quite possibly the Republicans will also gain a majority in the Senate.

    It’s a disaster no matter how you slice the shitcake, unless Romney wins (and even then, it’s still pretty awful).

    If Romney wins, with a Senate and House united under the Republican banner, Romney will run the whole country into the ground. Within two years, things will be bread-line terrible. All the excess that Dubya pissed through during his turn at the wheel is gone. There’s almost no wiggle room left. Romney will have everything so hopelessly ruined that by the time of the 2016 election, the Democrats will be able to win with a campaign that consists entirely of Hilary Clinton answering every question with, “I’m not a Republican.”

    If Obama wins? First, who’s going to be the Democratic candidate for President in 2016? Biden? Are you out of your mind? Forget Mrs. Clinton as well. She’s too smart to touch the nomination in 2016 after four more years of a lame-duck Obama presidency (and with the Republicans controlling the House and Senate, Obama’s entire second term will be lame-duck). 2016 will be a cakewalk for the Republicans because the Dems will be mud. No one will be interested in listening to the explanations about how Obama couldn’t get anything done in his second term because those meanies in the House and Senate stopped him.

    What’s the difference between the kid in the Little League uniform who takes three swings at the ball and misses all three and the kid in the Little League uniform who just stands there as the three swings go whistling in?

    Easy. No one boos the first kid. Why? Because at least he tried. Everyone wishes him better luck the next time at bat. The second kid? No one’s interested in his arguments about how he’s saving up his arm for his next term, uh, turn, at bat.

    Four more Obama years will leave the country EVEN WEAKER than it is already, and then the Republicans will run Grover Norquist and Joe Arapio. And they’ll walk right in, “Less gummint, more jails for brown people.” It will be the biggest step backward in American history. It will make Joe McCarthy look like a kindly hippie guru.

  4. I think we all missed the most telling part of all this.

    “During his ’60 Minutes’ interview on Sunday, President Obama was asked what his big idea was for his next term. Interviewer Steve Kroft mentioned the Marshall Plan and sending a man to the moon as examples of big ideas.”

    Sending a man to the moon. You can confirm whether we succeeded in that. Yes, we sent a man to the moon. Hell, we send a dozen of them right down to the surface. And we brought them all back, too.

    The Marshall Plan. Rebuild Europe. Was Europe rebuilt? Yes.

    Even bat-shit-for-brains Ronald Reagan had a plan that could be checked for success or failure: Strategic Defense Initiative, something he lifted right out of a Edgar R. Burroughs story. And even that sci-fi fantasy had the quality of being verifiable or falsifiable. Do we have a magic space shield to keep us safe from the Russians? No. (And no, we never could have. Any person with five neurons in his brain could present plenty of insurmountable obstacles to Ronnie’s dream of a space shield.)

    Obama? “I think there’s no bigger purpose right now than making sure that if people work hard in this country, they can get ahead […] That’s the central American idea.”

    How the hell do we check that? If I work hard — holy Hell, I’ve been working hard for most of my life — what does “get ahead” mean? Be able to put aside $40 a week instead of $30 to fund the retirement that I’ll never see? Eat out at a diner once a month instead of once every two months? Buy fresh fruit?

    I’m so sick of these politicians — and their supporters — who act like incoherence mutterings are grand, eloquent pronouncements. Dubya used to get away with it, too. He’d read three sentences with only a single stumble and people would fly out of their chairs to applaud until their hand bones broke.

    Where the hell are the grand plans that can actually be judged eventually? Why am I the only one who thinks leaders should be able to present examples of what they’ll do AS leaders? Have I hit my head? Is it a brain tumor? I hope not, I have no health insurance. But I’m sure Obama will get to that at some point. You see, it’s all part of his plan for his seventh term. That’s why he had to play 11-dimension chess for the first 24 years …

  5. @plant

    *pats your head* its so adorable how much of your headspace I own. Now run along back to licking the boots of your right-wing masters. If you do a good enough job maybe they’ll forgive you for utterly failing to inspire the revolution they want so badly. But either way, the grownups are talking so you have no business here.

  6. Retarded Whimsical said: “You’re half right. Which is 50% more right than you usally are, so kudos.”
    Translation: “Waahhhhh!!! Don’t say mean things about The One!”.

    The Retarded Whimsical solution to everything? Vote for Democrats and wait!! Yea!!
    (Oh, and you MUST vote for The One!)

    Retarded Whimsical: As predictable as he is ignorant. I just wish he would do the right thing and commit suicide. The world needs less enablers. The enablers are the worst agents of status quo, even more so than the most vile conservative.

  7. As I’ve said before, I agree with Whimsical that Romney is far worse than Obama, and, furthermore, that if Romney is elected, it will indicate to the political classes that the only viable positions are Romney’s or those farther right. So electing Obama (almost a certainty at this point) means four more years of the same appalling status quo, as opposed to four years of unmitigated disaster, followed by someone to the right of Romney.

    But that doesn’t mean I’m an Obamabot like Whimsical. Obama was terrible, even though Romney would be far worse. Obama was CinC, so he could have closed Guantánamo, but he was told that, if he did, and if any terrorist attack could be blamed on the closure, it would cost him his second term. So he backed off. And now, for his second term, he’s going to go to Australia to get some judges for the trials. Eminently qualified marsupial jurists, of course, for the trials he’s promised to hold.

    Obama could have prosecuted bankers who scammed borrowers and investors, but he prosecuted borrowers and told investors their investments were not Federally insured, only the bankers’ bonuses.

    And Obama has killed lots of people without trial via drones to impress the voters. And the voters and the left-wing media cheered (the right-wingnuts claim Obama wasn’t recognized by the military as CinC, so they killed those people on Romney’s orders, not Obama’s). Romney, of course, would order the killings by ground troops at far greater cost. So at least Obama’s murders are cheap, and cheap crimes are better than outrageously expensive ones from the point of view of the taxpayer.

    It’s a sad state, but it will be much worse in the unlikely event that Romney is elected.

  8. You’re half right. Which is 50% more right than you usally are, so kudos.

    See, here’s the thing you don’t seem to get about big ideas- if you’re a victim of an economy that doesn’t work for everybody, you generally don’t give a crap about them.

    Once the economy and the American Dream has been restored, (which is what Obama is trying to do), THEN a big idea like a manned moon base(the only decent idea Gingrich has ever had) makes sense. And trying for it will inspire people.

    But until then? People won’t care about anything other than restoring the American Dream. Which makes it a big idea. Obama gets this, which is why he didn’t duck. He told the truth, like he usually does. And you’re bashing him because you didn’t like or can’t deal with the truth, like you usually do.

    The biggest idea around right now is the restoration of the American Dream, which will require the death of the current incarnation of the Republican party. Once that happens and we have both our feet back on solid ground, THEN and only then can and should we put our heads in the clouds.

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