Friday, April 24, 2009

Feel The Optimism

To support his contention that "Americans have always felt that they are masters of their own fate", David Brooks cites statistics that:
  • Sixty-four percent of Americans believe there are more risks that endanger their standards of living today than in their parents’ time.

  • Fifty-Eight percent of Americans believe there's no more opportunity for advancement, or is less opportunity for advancement, than there was a generation ago. (Brooks tries to spin this as a positive "Forty-two percent believe there are more opportunities to move up than a generation ago.")

Brooks thus concludes that "Americans stand out from others in their belief that their own individual actions determine how they fare", a belief that "has been utterly unshaken by the global crisis".

As you might expect, Brooks isn't looking at the statistics with a questioning eye. He has his preconceptions of what "the rest of" America is like, and has spent his career reinforcing dichotomies that often exist largely in his own mind. He is happy to see the glass as half-empty when his world view is challenged, but today's statistics reflect how hard he works to avoid admitting the glass is less than half-full. No, I'm not arguing that Americans don't see themselves as self-reliant, or embrace the concept of upward mobility (including the Horatio Alger myth), but it does occur to me that there are a whole lot of Americans who fall less into that archetype that Brooks presents, starting, yes, with David Brooks himself.

Let's be blunt - in the corridors of government, the opinions and desires of the wealthy, politically connected 5% of the country into which David Brooks falls count for a lot more than lectures about how the rest of us "want a return to normalcy, with balanced budgets and a limited state." If a return to "normalcy" means that people like Brooks must cede power, wealth and influence, well, you can guess how far that'll get. Do you need to be reminded? Normalcy in those circles means getting six and seven figure bonuses even after you run your company into the ground. (And if you can only afford those bonuses by applying taxpayer bailout funds? No worries.)

I'll give Brooks some credit for departing from the "Obama's a failure" line advanced by a lot of conservative pundits or commentators. His observation that support for Obama will fade if the public perceives him as less than competent, well, could you have guessed?

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