I fear that I sound like a crotchety old guy when I say that it seems to me that America’s standards are rapidly deteriorating and that we need far better leadership to get us out of our funk.
If our economy is a high-end service economy, we should be mortified by the tumult in our financial markets brought about by excessive greed, unbelievably poor and lax regulation, and a system that increasingly socializes risk even as profits are privatized. It is amazing that an administration that came to power calling for deregulation, and put many officials in power who are openly disdainful of regulation, will end up leaving a legacy of nationalization of key industries.
If we are an industrial economy, then we should all be terrified by the current strike at Boeing, which is threatening to derail the phenomenally dramatic turnaround in that company’s fortunes stemming from their successful gamble on the 787 Dreamliner. But why, many ask, should the workers not be doing what some claim to be extorting the company at its moment of greatest opportunity and vulnerability when workers across the United States feel that CEOs even from failing companies are getting enormous salaries when the average worker is getting squeezed?
On top of that, standards seem to be falling across the board. People walk around with their pants lowered to their knees, the engineer of a commuter train in LA crashed because he was texting his friends rather than doing his job, and there seems to be a declining sense of common purpose across the board. I travel in Asia very regularly and I am always amazed by the sense of common purpose in places like Korea and Japan. Of course, I value American individualism, but would it harm us so much of more people started thinking about the common good more and less about their individual and often selfish needs?
This brings me back to the leadership issue. America has lost its way, and it is up to all of us, especially our leaders, to get us moving in the right direction. George Bush harmed us all when he said after 9/11 that we should all respond by going shopping. Americans are an idealistic people and we do not recognize ourselves in Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib. We need leaders who can inspire us to be our best and to believe in our own ideals to get us out of this national depression.
We also need to dramatically reform our immigration policies to ensure that the best and brightest people from around the world can come to the United States to start businesses and raise families. It’s probably impossible to calculate the financial contribution of the Jewish, Indian, Chinese, and other immigrants to the United States over the last hundred years, but my guess is that it would be a very sizable proportion of our overall growth, not to mention their contributions in science, the arts, medicine, and so many other fields. That we are not scouring the earth for the best and brightest and inviting them to come here is nothing short of insane in this increasingly competitive world.
I know that the McCain campaign is trying to use Barak Obama’s inspiring rhetoric against him, but inspiration to be our best is, it seems to me, exactly what we need more than anything. The current administration has shown us how we look at our worst, and Americans do not like what we are seeing in the mirror. America is a better country than what we are expressing today. Our next leader, whoever it may be, has to lead us back to our best selves.