Victor Davis Hanson

The rhetoric of Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton about the sad state of America is reminiscent of the suspect populism of John Edwards, the millionaire lawyer who recently dropped out of the Democratic presidential race.

Barack Obama may have gone to exclusive private schools. He and his wife may both be lawyers who between them have earned four expensive Ivy League degrees. They may make about a million dollars a year, live in an expensive home and send their kids to prep school. But they are still apparently first-hand witnesses to how the American dream has gone sour. Two other Ivy League lawyers, Hillary and Bill, are multimillionaires who have found America to be a land of riches beyond most people’s imaginations. But Hillary also talks of the tragic lost dream of America.

In these gloom-and-doom narratives by the well off, we less fortunate Americans are doing almost everything right, but still are not living as well as we deserve to be. And the common culprit is a government that is not doing enough good for us, and corporations that do too much bad to us.

In the new pessimistic indictment, the home mortgage meltdown has not occurred because too many speculative buyers were hoping to flip houses for quick profits. It had nothing to do with misguided attempts of government and lending institutions to put first-time buyers in homes through zero-down payments, interest-only loans, and subprime but adjustable mortgage rates — as part of liberal efforts to increase home ownership rates.

And there apparently are few Americans who unwisely borrowed against their homes a second and third time to remodel or purchase big-ticket consumer items — on the belief that their equity would always be rising faster than their debts. Nor are we to look at this downturn as part of a historical boom-and-bust cycle in the housing industry — the present low prices and non-performing loans the natural counter-response to the overpriced real estate of the last five years.

Likewise, students are failing to graduate from college because there are too few government-guaranteed student loans. We don’t hear that thousands enter public universities without basic reading and mathematical skills — or that their college problems might in part be the fault of their own misplaced priorities in high school, and in part the fault of an educational system that is mostly therapeutic, offering fluffy courses and self-esteem training rather than rigorous math, science, literature and history classes. Nor is there ever mention of teachers’ unions, the system of tenure, or a vapid, politically correct curriculum, as explanations why our students are not competitive in the global marketplace.


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.