It’s Debatable

Last night’s Presidential Debate was remarkable mostly in that it was unremarkable. Still, the reality of American politics is that what was actually said is not nearly as important as how people feel about the event the morning after.

In reviewing the reactions, one point kept striking me. Several people remarked that Obama seemed all doom and gloom, saying we needed to fix all these things in order to succeed. Meanwhile, McCain seemed to feel that this was the greatest country on Earth, and his policies would just make it even better.

What was most striking is that this analysis was leveled as a criticism of Obama. This, despite the fact that some 80% of Americans believe the country is on the wrong path. Isn’t the first step toward any recovery admitting that you have a problem? There seems to be some troubling cognitive dissonance here. To my mind, I want a leader who recognizes that we have problems. Who wants to do more than tweak the system for incremental improvment. We are not merely in need of a course correction.

Maybe the issue is that while many Americans recognize we are on the wrong path, they are scared to deviate much from the path as they are comfortable with it. Change brings uncertainty, and that can be scary. This seems to be the core philosophy of the Conservatives. Change is bad. Let’s stick with what we know. If things get ugly, we’ll just do those same old things harder and faster. But those are the policies that got us where we are. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. That doesn’t mean that insanity is not a comfortable place, but it doesn’t make it a desireable one.

The Dangers of American Exceptionalism

I was trying to briefly convey the point at dinner last night that America needs to get over it’s pride and come to terms with the reality that as a country we are no longer on the ascendancy. Our time in the barrel has passed. Granted, we’ve been in this position pretty much since World War II, but prior to that were very much just another country on the map. We seem to have forgotten that. And we seem to feel that if we aren’t on top, then we’re nothing. I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that not being the rising star suddenly means you’re a global embarrassment. We had our day in the sun. For awhile at least, it will be China and India’s turn, much as it was England and France’s turn before us. We even have the opportunity to make it our turn again. But that requires work we’re not yet prepared to do because we can’t yet cope with the reality of our current position.

In a fit of good timing, Roger Cohen makes much the same point in this morning’s paper. It’s time to get over ourselves already.