"I think the magic is over." That's what French Foreign Minister
Bernard Kouchner recently said about the United States' global
It has never been a great idea to rely on the
assessments of French politicians, but the daily news coming out of the
U.S. — in terms of our image overseas and beyond — does indeed seem
Oil has climbed to more than $100 a barrel. Gas is
nearing $4 a gallon. Gold is at $1,000 an ounce — a telltale sign the
public is losing trust in paper money, stocks and bonds. Housing prices
still slump. Foreclosures are on the rise. The huge Wall Street firm
Bear Stearns nearly collapsed before being bought out for a fraction of
its former worth.
Seven years ago, the euro was worth about
90 cents. Now it has soared past $1.50. Staples like wheat and corn
cost more than at anytime in our history. Foreign creditors hold $12
trillion in U.S. government securities, the result of decades of
staggering trade deficits.
We are still fighting to secure
constitutional governments in Afghanistan and Iraq. Iran, contrary to
headlines drawn from the recent National Intelligence Estimate, is
likely still betting the United States can't prevent it from getting
No one knows how many illegal aliens are in the
United States — 11 million, 15 million, 18 million? — only that we can
neither go on with open borders nor apparently close them.
Only a third of the public approves of the Bush administration. The ratings of Congress are even lower.
self-proclaimed reformers turn out to have feet of clay. New York Gov.
Eliot Spitzer made a career of taking on Wall Street greed — in between
spending laundered money on high-priced call girls.
Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, promised a new politics of
racial healing and political honesty. Yet despite eloquent speeches, he
still cannot adequately explain why for 20 years he attended and
subsidized a church whose fiery preacher spewed the worst sort of
racial hatred and divisiveness.
So, is the "magic over"? Not
quite yet. The remedies for our current maladies require moderately
curbing our extravagant lifestyle and voracious consumption. Given the
vast size of the U.S. economy, we could easily restrain spending and
begin paying off our debts rapidly. Inflation and unemployment are
still relatively low.
More than 94 percent of Americans with
home mortgages meet their monthly obligations. More Americans own homes
than ever before. More immigrants seek out America than any other
We have not been hit by terrorists in more than six
years. And, slowly, both Afghanistan and Iraq are showing political
progress and declining violence, despite recent suicide bombings.
a relative sense, our problems pale in comparison to our past world
wars and depressions, or those of our current competitors.
the U.S., which is funding democratic change in Afghanistan and Iraq,
Russia and China offer only brutal solutions to quench Islamic
separatists in Chechnya and Xinjiang Province. Neither country can
square economic progress with human rights. Both have polluted their
natural environment in ways inconceivable here.
Meanwhile, a shrinking Europe is disarmed in a dangerous world and can't assimilate its growing minorities.
are still the world's third-largest petroleum producer with vast
amounts of untouched oil. We have the world's largest coal reserves.
Americans could use coal and nuclear power to generate most of our
electrical needs and to charge hybrid electric cars. Our universities
remain the world's best, and we lead the world in cutting-edge
American elections are more wide
open than ever before. Our next president will either be the first
septuagenarian (when taking office), woman or African-American in the
job. America remains a meritocracy where no one is above the law.
Unlike so many other places, success is predicated more on ability than
race, class, tribe, religion or gender.
So while we exhibit
outward symptoms of sickness, our inner constitution — the real
barometer of the health of a civilization — is sound.
important, there is a growing sense that Americans want to sacrifice to
ensure our pre-eminence. Many conservatives are accepting that they
can't just cut taxes without spending limits. And many liberals are
seeing that more federal programs mean more dependency and debt for our
Divisive race and gender identity politics are
becoming tired. A multiracial America in a strife-filled world works.
So why copy the tribal separatism and divisions of the former
Yugoslavia, Rwanda or most of the Middle East?
United States is so huge, free, wealthy and dynamic, we can cause
enormous problems overnight. But by the same token, we can curb these
excesses quickly. The solution to so many of the hopeless headlines is
entirely in our hands.