Sometimes when things sound too good to be true, they are.
This episode came to mind while reading the following piece by Michael Kinsley regarding the existence of American exceptionalism, the loosely defined term to describe the average American’s view that we are special and that our country is the greatest country on earth. Kinsley argues that this exceptionalism is blinding us to our serious problems and that this ignorance is doing significant damage to the long term prospects of our country.
I think there’s a better term to describe the current state of the country, we are not a serious. Lower taxes, but greater social security and medicare benefits and increased military spending; invade and threaten foreign countries, but don’t draft my children. And that’s if we bother to think of the issues at all.
The political debate today is sometimes framed around the absence of hard choices, which only leads to harder choices in the long term. But more likely, there is no political debate. Its a personality contest. More news coverage has been devoted to Christine O’Donnell than any other political candidate this year. A potential junior senator from the tiny state of Delaware, an intellectual lightweight with seemingly no long term prospects has been the constant subject of our national attention. You could argue that we are fascinated by O’Donnell because it says something larger about the state of Tea Party politics in America, but I don’t think it has anything to do with it. I think she’s covered because we enjoy mocking her, in the same way we watch reality shows to mock the contestants. It makes us feel better about ourselves. Look at how stupid she is. Look, she got drunk and hooked up with a younger man while dressed up as a lady bug!! Look, she used to be a witch!!! How weird!! We would never do anything like that, what an idiot!
Throw in a dab of Islamophobia into the mix and you have the recipe for American political discource: 1 part impossible or impossibly vague promises; 2 parts crazy lady; and a dash of fear mongering.
I look across the pond to England, where the government is in the midst of imposing very severe reductions in government expenditures. I’ll have posts up at a later point in time on how the English are doing this at America’s expense in some areas (military cuts and health care costs), but the larger point is, the political class and I assume the population as a whole took a look at the depth of the countries economic problem and said “Enough”. Ireland has done the same. And I wonder if the United States is even capable of doing the same.
Sadly, we’re starting to see example of first world countries that never faced their problems until it was too late; see e.g. Greece. And there are certainly numerous countries that continue to muddle along without making hard choices, but I don’t have any interest in following Italy on its never-ending quest for fat-free gelato.