Friday, July 28, 2006

Looking Deeper Into The Funk

Mike at Crest wrote that he thought a gloom had crept over the country lately. He said as he had been walking around that he noticed "less laughter, less activity, less life." Yesterday I wrote my own post about the gloom and doom overtaking the country, compared the funk to what we all went through during the "bad old seventies", and said that

things are a bit different 30 years later, but the feeling is the same: "No future for you!" If the terrorists don't get us, global warming will. If the Iraq war ever ends, we'll be onto the Iran war (or the Syrian war...or the North Korean war...or the Oceania war...) If the housing market doesn't completely tank, the job market will. If I get a modest wage increase, it will quickly be eaten away by higher gas prices, rent, food, and health care costs. I may want to retire by age 65, but there's no guarantee that either Social Security, my pension, or for that matter, the world, will be there for me when I do.

John Harwood of the Wall Street Journal, digging deep into the numbers from the recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll that also showed the country in a deep funk, discovered that the pessimism people are feeling these days is here for the long-term:

Among the six-in-10 Americans who say country is “on the wrong track,” most see “long-term decline.” More than two-thirds of those over 50 aren’t confident life will improve for “our children’s generation”; 62% of those under 35 agree.

Americans are especially gloomy about the environment, health care, public morals and housing costs; nearly eight in 10 expect college to become less affordable. By 47%-24%, Americans fear the quality of jobs in the U.S. will get worse.

The problems facing the country today - terrorism, the Iraq war, Iran, North Korea, global warming, the deficit, high energy costs, high health care costs, high housing costs, high college costs, outsourced jobs, the slowing economy (came in weaker than expected today at just 2.5% GDP for the second quarter), and rising inflation (despite the weaker GDP, core inflation came in at a 2.9% annual rate for the second quarter - far outside the Fed's comfort zone) - all feel long-term and systemic.

How does inflation go down when oil prices are so high? How does the price of oil fall when demand is so high, supply is so short, and the Middle East oil suppliers so unsettled? How does global warming get better when the country adding the most carbon into the atmosphere, the United States, doesn't have political leadership with the courage to even admit there's a problem, let alone begin to address it and find solutions? How does the Iraq war end happily for the United States and Iraqi civilians when all signs point to a bloody civil war and a long-term American troop prescence there? How does the United States deal with Iran's nuclear ambitions when it is tied down long-term in Iraq? With gas prices, health care costs, housing costs, college costs all rising and wages stagnant or falling, how will middle and working class Americans buy homes, send their kids to college or take care of themselves and their families without adding hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt? And what about all those retiring baby boomers? Will Social Security and pensions still be around after the baby boomers eat up all the resources?

These really are serious problems. Unfortunately we do not have serious leadership in the nation to deal with these problems, especially not in the current ruling party. Instead we have political leadership that has spend the last few weeks debating a flag burning amendment, a gay marriage amendment, and other "values" initiatives in a cynical attempt to use wedge issues to help people forget about the real pressing problems facing the nation. Luckily the "values" initiatives haven't really worked. NPR reported yesterday that poll results in 50 Battleground House districts showed that these values initiatives have actually turned many voters off. Apparently voters are aware, unlike the political leadership in the Grand Old Party, that the country faces many more pressing problems than whether some crazy can set a flag on fire in Union Square while wearing a surgical mask and screaming about Karl Marx.

Now if only we can find some political leadership in either party with the courage to start dealing with the very real, the very scary, and the very long-term problems facing the country these days that make it feel like we're living through the "bad old seventies" all over again.

It really does take a clear focus to stay on top of the economic vagaries. The major imperative should be security, but not the type current governments are engaged with.
It is hard to be optimistic at the moment. I just live in hope that latent common sense of the masses will somehow override to greed and self serving destruction of the few.
Great point, rbe - there is a huge disconnect between our real-world problems and our posturing, puffed-up, self-involved politicians.
cartledge, I agree that it is hard to be optimistic at this moment. I don't understand how we got here. I don't understand how people don't see that what an American family used to be able to do with one income now takes two (and sometimes three and four.) I don't see how people don't see that the money and benefits they used to receive now goes to the CEO's and the investor classes. I don't understand why people aren't angry about it. I guess bread and circuses and real estate have kept the people in check for a while.

abi, posturing and puffed up expertly describes the preznit - did you see him at that press conference with Blair. He really thinks he's too important to take criticism for his the consequences his actions chave caused. He also doesn't seem to think anything he does is wrong. I wish the American people would stop electing men they want to have a beer with (even though Geoprge is a dry drunk and having a beer with him would no doubt turn into a 36 hour affair replete with cocaine, hookers, drunk driving and guns). I wish the American people would elect intelligent, mature, responsible, knowledgeable people to the WH.

And I'm not sure John Kerry really fit that bill either. Obviously many Dems picked him because they thought he was electable (I know that's why I voted for him.) I figured the Repubs wouldn't be able to tar a Vietnam veteran with a couple of purple hearts as a coward and a "pussy". Boy was I wrong. So next time around, I'm just going to vote for the person I think would best represent my intersts and the interests of the nation. Right now, that's either John Edwards or Wes Clark.
Look what they did to Max Cleland. No shame.

No, Kerry didn't fit the bill. I thought Howard Dean did. The media killed him in Iowa. They never let the truth get in the way of a good story (the crazed scream).
It's so true. I wasn't a Dean fan before the scream, actually. I thought he would be too easily caricatured by the meda and the RNC slimemeisters. And then of course the media piled on with "The Scream" thing and essentially destroyed his candidacy, showing just how ready they were to play into the caricature-making the slimemeisters are always doing. I wonder if we'll ever get to the point where voters start to really react negatively to the cynical campaign tactics used these days?
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