Life is never as stark and simple as the politicians paint it. Only incumbents can campaign on how great things are going. Change sells as a moving force because it promises something better. Even conservatives, eager to conserve and protect the good things of the past, argue for improving things at home and abroad. But nobody wants to charge headlong into the unknown.
Criticisms and predictions carry risks. Silver linings tarnish, and the pot of gold disappears as the rainbow vanishes. The iron law of unintended consequences usually means the cure was at least as bad as the disease, and sometimes worse. But there are exceptions. John McCain was as harsh with his criticism of the Iraq war as Donald Rumsfeld fought it, but now concludes that "the surge" is working. Other good news follows.
A number of social indicators, both national and international, suggest that doom and gloom criers have never been more wrong than they are today. Prospect, a liberal magazine, and Commentary, a conservative journal, find cheerful cultural trends and challenge predictions of downward slides foreseeing an America weak and demoralized. In a number of key categories of crime, teenage drug use, abortion, educational achievement and welfare rolls, the statistics are positive. The dark diagnoses and gloomy speculations of a decade ago are rendered wrong (and wrongheaded).
While one explanation does not fit every change for good, Congress is entitled to some of the credit. "The 1996 welfare-reform bill was the most dramatic and successful social innovation in decades, reversing 60 years of federal policy that had long since grown not just useless but positively counterproductive," write Peter Wehner and Yuval Levin, fellows at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, in Commentary magazine. The dire predictions that welfare reform would merely accelerate the spread of poverty have been proved wrong, wrong, wrong. Poverty declined. The five-year term limit on federally funded benefits created incentives for millions of men and women to find work, lending newfound dignity and raising family incomes.