Surely there must be at least five optimists left in America, but so help me, I can only find Rich Karlgaard of Forbes and myself. In spite of all the bad news around us, and the pessimism that accompanies it, there has never been a better time to be an American or to survey our future as a people.
Pessimism is the order of the day. And for good reason. With an economy in tatters, an Afghan war in doubt, and an ever-flowing oil spill in the Gulf, there are many reasons for concern. Our own Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, said this week that America can no longer be counted on to serve as the world's economic engine. So much for positive leadership and inspiration. With a growing internal cancer of homegrown Islamic terrorists and a government without an immigration policy, our security and stability is less than sure. With a president (and Congress) whose obsessions are none of the issues above, but rather ensuring that gays can serve openly in the military and that health care is run by the government, a reasonable person can easily fall into the temptation of pessimism. Understandably, President Obama's approval ratings have reached a new low (41%) after just eighteen months in office.
However, I am optimistic for two key reasons, so I tried diligently on a recent edition of my nightly talk radio show to find another American with a sense of hope and optimism for our future. Sadly, I came up empty. Not a single caller, emailer, or Facebooker acknowledged being optimistic about the future of America. And my listeners are not alone. A new poll from Wall Street Journal/NBC reveals Americans in remarkable numbers seeing our nation on the wrong track, and a Pew/Smithsonian poll shows similar pessimism about our nation's future. The latter poll revealed significantly fewer Americans optimistic about the coming decades as we move toward 2050 than were so in 1999. In fact, about 25% fewer Americans expressed hope for a better personal life or a better America in 2010 than did so in just 1999.
So why my optimism for America's future?
First, capitalism and freedom are too strong to kill. Human nature is not made for fetters, and the American spirit has been built on that very principle. We have tasted freedom, and it has been embedded into our national DNA. While we may tolerate a few restrictions and restraints here and there, we will not throw the baby out with the bath water. Americans are a resilient people, and a strong people. Add in the power of talk radio, global and twenty-four hour satellite and cable television, as well as the Internet, and you get a powerful mechanism to advance freedom and thought. While we should be concerned about the capabilities of the government, we should never forget where the greatness of the American experiment lies: in the people and our innovativeness. We figure out ways around encumbrances and impediments, we bend but do not break, and we persist. We see possibilities and make them realities.
Many observers fret about the growing economic prowess of China and India. While they may grow, neither will soon replace us as the economic (not to mention moral) leader of the world. China's oppressive birth policies are creating an impending national demographic slowdown as the younger generation does not have the numbers to support a robust, growing economy or to meet the demands of a growing aging population. India is poised to be a greater economic power than China, but its widespread acute poverty in a population of over one billion will prove a considerable drag coefficient on its global significance.
Rich Karlgaard has rightly noted that the global argument for America's remaining strong is a powerful one. America is 4% of the world's population, 24% of its GDP, and a full 40% of its net worth. America can try to go to the left economically, but it will not travel too far because the rest of the world will not go with it. The American people will not let it. The bond markets will not let it. America's major industries and companies will not allow it. Do not overestimate the power and capacities of our economically-miseducated politicians to derail the entire American economic locomotive. Yes, we are in a trough right now, but we have encountered those throughout history. The key is not to overreact but to trust the fundamentals underlying our nation and be patient.
Second, we have reason for optimism due to the large numbers of people coming to America or desiring to do so. Flip the illegal immigration issue on its head for a moment. Why do so many people sign up for lotteries, swim across rivers, endanger their own lives, or offer to leave everything and everyone behind in their home country? They know something that we native-borns often forget or ignore. America is special. Opportunity and ingenuity live here. We would not need to have a debate around immigration if we did not have a great country. Immigrants see clearly that we are a people of possibility not constraint.
Immigrants are 30% more likely to launch new businesses than non-immigrants. Immigrants often are willing to take risks; after all, they did not come here without risk. They are looking for the possibility of reward. Their energy infuses and re-infuses our country with a vitality that no other country can match. Are millions lining up to get INTO China? I think not.
So, while our present economic travails are certainly not fun, neither are they the end of the world. Among the many quotes attributed to the recently deceased coach, John Wooden, rests this gem: “All of life is peaks and valleys. Don’t let the peaks get too high and the valleys too low.” We would do well to apply that lesson right now and not let the challenges overwhelm our nation's natural optimism..
America may be puttering at present, but we will be back soon. Our DNA and our people simply will not allow it to be otherwise.