Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The American Scream

Tom Friedman at the New York Times is one of my least favorite columnists. He is disingenuous about a lot of things, his agenda panders to a pseudo-liberal audience unwilling to think on their own, and finally he and his colleagues at the Times misled this country about Iraq before and during the early days of the Iraq War as profiteers. Their lies have contributed to this nation's shame, grief and loss of life, liberty, and affluence.

So today, Friedman accurately describes the consequences of almost thirty years of suffocating conservative politics in America.
We are not as powerful as we used to be because over the past three decades, the Asian values of our parents’ generation — work hard, study, save, invest, live within your means — have given way to subprime values: “You can have the American dream — a house — with no money down and no payments for two years.”

That’s why Donald Rumsfeld’s infamous defense of why he did not originally send more troops to Iraq is the mantra of our times: “You go to war with the army you have.” Hey, you march into the future with the country you have — not the one that you need, not the one you want, not the best you could have.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I flew from New York’s Kennedy Airport to Singapore. In J.F.K.’s waiting lounge we could barely find a place to sit. Eighteen hours later, we landed at Singapore’s ultramodern airport, with free Internet portals and children’s play zones throughout. We felt, as we have before, like we had just flown from the Flintstones to the Jetsons. If all Americans could compare Berlin’s luxurious central train station today with the grimy, decrepit Penn Station in New York City, they would swear we were the ones who lost World War II.

How could this be? We are a great power. How could we be borrowing money from Singapore? Maybe it’s because Singapore is investing billions of dollars, from its own savings, into infrastructure and scientific research to attract the world’s best talent — including Americans.

And us? Harvard’s president, Drew Faust, just told a Senate hearing that cutbacks in government research funds were resulting in “downsized labs, layoffs of post docs, slipping morale and more conservative science that shies away from the big research questions.” Today, she added, “China, India, Singapore ... have adopted biomedical research and the building of biotechnology clusters as national goals. Suddenly, those who train in America have significant options elsewhere.”
I doubt that Friedman or his disciples truly comprehend what he is observing because these observations are not as conveniently disposable as his op-ed pieces.

Friedman is describing an intellectual vacuum in this country that has suffocated the American Dream. Friedman is a very rich man who is longing for the accommodations of other places. His question is, "Why can't we be like them? The postscript to the question might read, ...instead of Americans?" His opinions about Hillary, Obama, or McCain are irrelevant. He asks,
Who will tell the people? We are not who we think we are. We are living on borrowed time and borrowed dimes. We still have all the potential for greatness, but only if we get back to work on our country.

I don’t know if Barack Obama can lead that, but the notion that the idealism he has inspired in so many young people doesn’t matter is dead wrong. “Of course, hope alone is not enough,” says Tim Shriver, chairman of Special Olympics, “but it’s not trivial. It’s not trivial to inspire people to want to get up and do something with someone else.”

It is especially not trivial now, because millions of Americans are dying to be enlisted — enlisted to fix education, enlisted to research renewable energy, enlisted to repair our infrastructure, enlisted to help others. Look at the kids lining up to join Teach for America. They want our country to matter again. They want it to be about building wealth and dignity — big profits and big purposes. When we just do one, we are less than the sum of our parts. When we do both, said Shriver, “no one can touch us.”
Friedman gets it wrong again. He thinks we just need to meet at a corner and roll up our sleeves and pull together and it will all be better.

The hard truth is that America has fallen on hard times because Americans already know all of the things he's saying but they've been conditioned to make bad choices. And they are conditioned by a federal brain-washing pogrom called No Child Left Behind that has robbed children of play, day-dreams, and the pursuit of happiness. America is already regimented just like the Communist regimes our parents and grandparents fought against.

America defeated totalitarianism with an engine for affluence - you could be a mutt, be loved, be educated, and make it here and you couldn't do that elsewhere.

Today, American children are told a different narrative;

You must conform even if the evidence suggests otherwise.

Be the same even if the evidence suggests otherwise.

Love is a commodity even if the evidence suggests otherwise.

Don't ask questions even if the evidence suggests otherwise.

Know the accepted answer even if the evidence suggests otherwise.

Conform or else even if the evidence suggests otherwise.

Get in the box and stay there even if the evidence suggests otherwise.

Success is being exactly who the government thinks you should be for your age group even if the evidence suggests otherwise.

Success is being like everyone else even if the evidence suggests otherwise.

A good citizen is an ever spending citizen even if the evidence suggests otherwise.

We are number one even if the evidence suggests otherwise.

Secure and poor is better than healthy, wealthy and wise even if the evidence suggests otherwise.

Uniform facts are all anyone needs even if the evidence suggests otherwise.

Curiosity is unnecessary even if the evidence suggests otherwise.

The best way to change things is to keep quiet, do nothing, and be scared even if the evidence suggests otherwise.

If there is a salvation for America, it can only come from a radical rethinking and correction of the school system. Dingy architecture, debt, and mindless war and depravity are but symptoms of what we've become used to as Americans.

We've lost the ability to think, to be free to be ourselves, and to be a raucous, dynamic, sparkling society. Without that, we go nowhere.

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