Bill Totten's Weblog

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

End of American Dream ...

... a Nightmare for Obama

by Richard Gwyn

Toronto Star (November 21 2010)

As was bound to happen, an article has just appeared, in the Washington Post and so in a respected, mainstream newspaper, calling on President Barack Obama to declare he will not run for re-election in 2012.

According to political commentators Douglas Schoen and Patrick Caddell, "America is suffering a widespread sense of crisis and anxiety" that Obama is magnifying because he "has largely lost the confidence of the governed".

In order to "galvanize the public for the hard decisions that must be made", they urge that Obama make an "explicit" announcement that he will be "a one-term president".

To pick holes in Schoen and Caddell's analysis is easy. A president who turns himself into a lame duck is scarcely likely to be able to mobilize the American people for the kind of decisions - not just hard ones but brutally hard ones - that lie ahead of them.

On the substantive point, though, they are right. Americans are facing a wrenching change of life that in an odd way Tea Party supporters, for all their superficiality, have expressed better than anyone else.

The core of the change of life America is undergoing is that it is ceasing to be an exceptional nation.

It will remain for a long time more powerful and richer than anyone else, and continue to exert immense cultural appeal, for a long time.

But it's in a phase of inescapable decline. This sense of contraction, of children's lives no longer being better than those of the parents, was, surely, as much the cause of the anxiety and anger expressed in the mid-term elections as the specifics of unemployment, mortgage foreclosures and wage cutbacks.

Decline has happened before to Rome and Britain and France and Spain. And, as is worth noting, to China also.

As was the case with these national empires, and others, this phenomenon has mostly been self-inflicted.

America tried to do everything - to police the world, to run the world's financial system, to maintain its people's standard of living far beyond its economic and financial ability to pay for their bills.

And now it's broke and exhausted. In Afghanistan, its military options have narrowed down to finding an exit strategy that avoids humiliation.

At home, it is entering, an era of austerity. No longer - any more than can Ireland or Greece or Portugal - can it avoid paying the pile up of bills, even by devices such as that of the Federal Reserve in temporarily shrinking the value of its outstanding bills by printing money.

There is of course the staggering budget deficit. Yet proposals by a bipartisan commission set up by Obama to suggest ways to squeeze the deficit down by $4 trillion over four years have provoked, from the Democrats, "simply unacceptable" and, from the Republicans, a refusal to even talk about closing tax loopholes.

This is only the best-known deficit. As considerable is the deficit in the form of the liabilities of so-called entitlement programs. The employee pension plans of the states are underfunded to the tune of $3.4 trillion.

And there's the cruellest deficit of all, that of the gap between rich and poor. America's top one percent now get one-quarter of the national income. Their gain has come mostly from the middle class. Again, it was the Tea Partiers who best understood the American Dream has passed them by.

Obama has not in fact "lost the confidence of the governed". Indeed, 47 percent told exit pollsters they wanted him to run again in 2012. He has, though, lost his voice.

If Obama spends the next two years telling his people the truth, he may well pay the ultimate political price.

But he would have fulfilled his own dictum, as he told TV interviewer Diane Sawyer, that "I'd rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president".

Bill Totten


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