Ah, but China is investing in high-speed rail! Which, we are told, will help us win the future. Except China has, in the words of the London Financial Times, "slammed the brakes" on its high-speed rail program for a slew of safety and economic reasons.
What people don't often mention is that we have the best freight system in the world (in Europe, they move people on rails and cargo on roads; we mostly do the opposite because we're so much more spread out). That's why Warren Buffett -- the president's favorite billionaire -- has invested massively in freight rail. Alas, switching to high-speed rail in the U.S. would seriously threaten the efficiency of our system.
Obviously, China's a formidable economic player, and a growing military and diplomatic power. But only a fool would trade our problems for theirs (even though Obama has reportedly told friends he envies the president of China for having an easier job). China's health and safety standards are abysmal compared with America's. China's air is crunchy, its rivers often flammable. Their housing bubble could make ours look like a minor correction. Demographically, China is still on target to get old before it gets rich.
Moreover, China's social fabric is in dire need of repair. Just consider the recent horrifying footage of a 2-year-old toddler who was struck by two vehicles and was left to die in agony in the middle of a busy street as passersby ignored her. The New York Times reported this summer that in some regions, it is common for officials to snatch newborn babies from parents -- and sell them. Indeed, China has a thriving market in children. And do you really think our problems with income inequality are worse than China's?
Oh, and let's not forget: It's still an autocratic police state.
Obama is hardly alone in his effort to mythologize China in order to justify expansion of government. Times columnist Tom Friedman -- who has written often of his envy for China's authoritarian system -- begins his new book comparing the unreliable escalators at his neighborhood subway station with a glitzy convention center in China, in order to suggest that China is winning the future. It's as instructive as comparing his mansion in Bethesda, Md., to a Chinese cave.