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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

It's not all gloom and doom

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Life is good.

Yeah, I know. That's not the most popular view right now and, and it probably is offensive, insensitive and in violation of all the other 'ives that define today's ethics. But because I'm paid to be unpopular, and if we all could start conducting our lives by practicing the good, true and beautiful instead of merely trying to float through life without displeasing anyone, I'll say it anyway.

Being wretched is the cause de jour. Even if we, ourselves, aren't miserable, we're supposed to act as if we were, because if we don't, how can we be considered simpatico with the suffering multitudes? If we don't walk around with long faces, we'll be indicted for not caring about the many who are losing their jobs, homes, savings and their futures. For me, that'll mean I'll probably have to work until the day I die—not a happy prospect for some of my most critical readers, but that'll be my silver lining to that particular cloud.

Financial problems, health problems; we've all had them. Some worse than others, and every night my last waking thoughts often are about how blessed and/or lucky we are to have survived the awful and avoided the worst. How wonderful is that gift that we have received; how immense are its possibilities. Now, our collective despond has overwhelmed it all. So much so that a national malaise poses a fundamental threat to the American economy.

We always believed that we were part of a great movement called democracy, involved in the search for freedom, and that belief has always strengthened us in our purpose. But just as we are losing our confidence in the future, we are also beginning to close the door on our past, a past founded on the conviction that we are the ultimate rulers and shapers of our democracy.

The crisis we face today isn't so much one of credit, excessive borrowing or a housing meltdown. It is a crisis of confidence. Confidence isn't just some romantic notion; it is a fact that has driven the American experience. From confidence flows private enterprise and self-government. Confidence links generations and fuels progress. All the legislation in the world can't fix what's wrong with America. The strength we need will not come from the White House, but from every house in America.

By now, the more historically astute have recognized that I've cribbed these words, some of them verbatim, from former President Jimmy Carter. On July 15, 1979, Carter delivered his televised "malaise" speech to a nation sinking into an economic quagmire, one that was actually worse than today's. That, of course, offends the current incantation that today's economy is "the worst since the Great Depression," a trope that has been repeated so often that it has been emptied of meaning. Truly, today's economy isn't as bad as the one that Carter faced; the unemployment rate was higher, credit had been severely crimped by incredibly high interest rates, the country still was in a post-Vietnam War and post-Watergate funk. Carter correctly diagnosed the cause: the loss of faith. Former President Ronald Reagan, for whatever his faults, helped restore it.

That history, however, hasn't mattered much to a political and media establishment enthralled with our depression. At every turn, they have been moved to forecast even worse times. For whatever political reason or personal gain, they continued to pile it on, deepening the gloom until its prospect became reality. Bad news has weighed down bad news; dire warnings are issued that as bad as things are, they'll only get worse.

In some quarters, it is a partisan exercise, meant to deepen our gloom, gain political advantage and either scare the populace into ever-grosser levels of debt or to discredit efforts to ease the gloom. President Barack Obama blames, with increasing acidity, the Bush administration and "those who would have us do nothing" (who, pray tell, are they?). We could argue the point all day about whether the "failure of regulation" was Barney Frank's or George Bush's fault.

But it's about time to acknowledge that we, with our constant harping, have created the monster that we lay at the feet of speculators, bankers, financial finaglers, irresponsible borrowers and all the rest. And that we are responsible for re-igniting the innate American confidence that will restore our health.

1 comment:

Mike V said...

Good work! You hit the nail on the head. Thanks for doing what you do.