"Are We Rome?" asks a new book, authored by an editor at Vanity Fair magazine. The subtitle is "The Fall of an Empire and the Fate of America."
It seems, given the dour mood of the country, that this would be a good time to market such a book. And, indeed, as I check its sales clip on Amazon, it seems to be moving at a brisk pace that must please both author and publisher.
So, is America creaking and crumbling like a latter-day Rome?
If it is, the word hasn't gotten to our financial markets. Stocks are booming, interest rates, inflation and unemployment are low, and companies are making money.
Usually this is the formula for a happy electorate. But, for some reason, not now.
According to polls, less than a third of Americans are happy with their president, barely more than a fourth are happy with their Congress and three-quarters feel the country is on the wrong track.
A recent New York Times/CBS poll shows pessimism extending among our young people. In a survey of 17- to 29-year-olds, 70 percent said the nation is on the wrong track.
When asked if "your generation will be better off, worse off or about the same as your parents' generation," 48 percent said worse off, 25 percent said better off and 25 percent said the same.
These young people, looking for change, are helping fuel Obamaphoria. In the Times/CBS poll, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., was the candidate about whom they expressed the most enthusiasm. They surely are an important source of his large number of low-dollar and online contributors.
But what is driving the dissatisfaction?
Certainly, there is unhappiness about the war in Iraq. We hear comparisons to Vietnam. But let's recall that the death toll in Vietnam, when the protests got most intense, was far beyond the 3,000-plus casualties we have experienced thus far in Iraq.
By the time we exited Vietnam, we had lost more than 50,000 of our soldiers.
But why would unhappiness about our engagement in Iraq cause half of younger Americans to say they will be worse off than their parents?
Here's one hypothesis about what may be affecting the general mood. People feel rattled when they feel a loss of control.
One thing that Americans have done over the years is turn more and more of their lives over to others to control. This is reflected in the growth of government.
At the beginning of the last century, government took less than one dollar of every 10 produced by the nation's economy. By the 1950s, government was taking about one dollar of every four produced. Now it is taking almost a third.