Darts and Dolts

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big picture stuff, Bush Administration, economy, workers

I hate to quibble with Anatole Kaletsky, who wrote this in the London Times:

For the past five years, America has been led by a president who is clearly not up to the job — a man who is not just inarticulate, but lacking in judgment, intelligence, integrity, charisma or staying power.

Who (with a brain) could argue with that? But then Kaletsky writes,

While America has been run by one of the most doltishly ineffectual governments in history, it has forged ever further ahead of Europe in terms of wealth, science, technology, artistic creativity and cultural dominance.

Why does America’s prosperity and self-confidence seem to bear so little relationship to the competence of its government? The obvious answer is that America, founded on a libertarian theory of minimal government, has always had low expectations of politicians. In America, it is not just business that thrives independently of government, perhaps even in spite of government. The same is also true of other areas of excellence which in Britain are considered quintessentially in the public domain — higher education, leading-edge science, culture and academic research. Because Americans expect so little of their government, they are rarely disappointed. They do not slump into German-style angst when their governments fail to find solutions to the nation’s problems.

Kaletsky then tosses in some anti-Gubmint proverb from St. Ronald Reagan. But the attitude he describes has not been common throughout American history. Through most of our 225 or so years we have expected the government to work for us. And most of the time, it has. It’s only been in the post-Vietnam era that conventional wisdom said government can’t be expected to walk and chew gum at the same time, so to speak.

When you are dealing with big things, like a huge and prosperous nation, it takes a long time for momentum to stop. If the people of the world are still lining up for American movies and blue jeans, this is the result of many decades of momentum. Since Reagan, the Right has been trying to undo generations of progressive reform, and by now they’ve dismantled quite a bit of it. But a lot of us are still benefiting from The Way America Used to Be Before Reagan. Boomers like me are still benefiting from the fact that our fathers got free educations on the GI Bill and our newlywed parents got cheap housing and cut-rate mortgages from other government programs, for example. Our parents’ prosperity got us off to a good start and put us on the road to security, equity, and stock portfolios. In a very real sense, many of us today are living better lives because government in the 1940s and 1950s effectively responded to the needs of citizens.

Each generation of middle-class, working Americans on the whole has been more educated and more affluent than the generation before. Even though we boomers bellyached a lot that our parents had it better than us, in the end we kept the momentum going. I wonder if the same thing will be true for my kids’ generation, though. The 20-somethings of today really are having it harder, I believe. Jobs are less secure, wages are stagnant, benefits are being cut, pensions are things of the past. Maybe I’m being too pessimistic, but seems to me the momentum may be about to stop.

Put another way, the full effects of having a dolt in the White House now may not be felt for another 20 years. I wonder what commentary the London Times will publish then?

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4 Comments

  1. Erin  •  Feb 3, 2006 @11:43 am

    I think the impacts of the “government is the enemy” thinking are on display right now. There are news stories all over the place about “boomerang kids” who leave home after high school only to come back 4 or 5 years later, and it comes across in news stories as my generation acting lazy, when the reality is that it’s nearly impossible to get a steady job and support oneself immediately after college, particularly when so many students graduate with thousands of dollars in debt… and that’s the result of progressive reform being dismantled.

    See also the Village Voice series on Generation Debt and the new book of the same name. (There was an interview on Gothamist yesterday with the book’s author, and she says some interesting things.)

    And voter apathy is pretty prevalent among people under 30. It’s like What’s the Matter with Kansas, except that rather than voting against their own self interest, young people just don’t vote, but the only way to change things at the government level is to vote progressive candidates into office.

  2. erinyes  •  Feb 3, 2006 @12:40 pm

    London Times, Feb. 3, 2026….
    Today, president for life George W. Bush decided to take a two month vacation after unveiling his new retirement package to congress. The main feature of the much touted Bush retirement doctrine consists of a plane ticket to Alaska’s north slope where the newly retired person is custom fitted with his/ her very own ice floe……

  3. maha  •  Feb 3, 2006 @12:52 pm

    There are news stories all over the place about “boomerang kids” who leave home after high school only to come back 4 or 5 years later,

    That’s why I always told you and your brother that, once you were grown up, I would change the locks. 🙂

  4. janinsanfran  •  Feb 3, 2006 @5:48 pm

    Pink Feminist Hellcat, who I suspect of being a young person, wrote quite a piece lately on how hard it is in the current economy for the young. I think you’ve said it: whatever prosperity and standard of living we have left is coasting on past accomplishments.

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