I believe there are a few in government, trying their mightiest to
govern wisely and reasonably and morally. But Peggy Noonan thinks we’re being governed by children. Callous children.
No one believes the bad time is over. No one thinks
we’re entering a new age of abundance. No one thinks it will ever be
the same as before 2008. Economists, statisticians, forecasters and
market specialists will argue about what the new numbers mean, but no
one believes them, either. Among the things swept away in 2008 was
public confidence in the experts. The experts missed the crash. They’ll
miss the meaning of this moment, too.
The biggest threat to America right now is not government spending,
huge deficits, foreign ownership of our debt, world terrorism, two
wars, potential epidemics or nuts with nukes. The biggest long-term
threat is that people are becoming and have become disheartened, that
this condition is reaching critical mass, and that it afflicts most
broadly and deeply those members of the American leadership class who
are not in Washington, most especially those in business….
This is historic. This is something new in modern political history,
and I’m not sure we’re fully noticing it. Americans are starting to
think the problems we are facing cannot be solved.
I had an interesting conversation with a doctor this week who used
to be a somewhat regular guest on my radio show. He was a popular one
because he had a very personal and caring approach to medicine, based
on the premise that you have to be a participant in your own health
recovery and part of that was having hope. He really listened to
people, asked them questions to draw out their core stresses and
concerns, and he gave them hope. After not talking with him for a long
time, I looked him up this week. His first words to me were: “Where’s
the hope?!” Everyone he talks to, he said, nearly all his patients
especially, are worried and afraid and depressed because we are all
facing so many huge problems right now and they seem insurmountable.
I mentioned this Peggy Noonan column.
Part of the reason is that the problems—debt, spending,
war—seem too big. But a larger part is that our government, from the
White House through Congress and so many state and local governments,
seems to be demonstrating every day that they cannot make things
better. They are not offering a new path, they are only offering old
paths—spend more, regulate more, tax more in an attempt to make us more
healthy locally and nationally. And in the long term everyone—well, not
those in government, but most everyone else—seems to know that won’t
work. It’s not a way out. It’s not a path through.
The people seem to be more aware than the government, more aware of the nation’s vulnerabilities, that it can be harmed.
When I see those in government, both locally and in
Washington, spend and tax and come up each day with new ways to spend
and tax—health care, cap and trade, etc.—I think: Why aren’t they
worried about the impact of what they’re doing? Why do they think
America is so strong it can take endless abuse?
I think I know part of the answer. It is that they’ve never seen
things go dark. They came of age during the great abundance, circa
1980-2008 (or 1950-2008, take your pick), and they don’t have the habit
of worry. They talk about their “concerns”—they’re big on that word.
But they’re not really concerned. They think America is the goose that
lays the golden egg. Why not? She laid it in their laps. She laid it in
They don’t feel anxious, because they never had anything to be
anxious about. They grew up in an America surrounded by
phrases—”strongest nation in the world,” “indispensable nation,”
“unipolar power,” “highest standard of living”—and are not bright
enough, or serious enough, to imagine that they can damage that, hurt
it, even fatally.
We are governed at all levels by America’s luckiest children, sons
and daughters of the abundance, and they call themselves optimists but
they’re not optimists—they’re unimaginative.
Noonan ends her column saying they don’t even notice people are disheartened.
In a not altogether different column at First Things, James D. Conley ends his analysis of the critical health care debate almost the same.
For all of Congress’ public talk about “consensus
building” and “consensus health care,” Washington has proved once again
that hearing loss can be job-related. Most American Catholics, from
people in the pews to pastors and bishops, want healthcare reform to
As, presumably, do most Americans in general.
But too many people in Washington don’t know how to listen, or don’t want to listen, or just don’t care.
Have you called your congressional representative lately? I called
mine today. And at least the people who answered the phones for them
were polite, they listened, they thanked me for calling, and I thanked
them for noting my concerns. It’s a start, and it’s got to start with