When Phil Graham, John McCain's economic advisor told the press last week that Americans are a bunch of whiners concerning their economic and social situation, the press and other politicians jumped on him like a pack of wolves on a downed antelope.
At first I too was appalled by this statement; but as I thought about it he is at least partially right.
Sure there are people who have a right to complain in our society. People who have been responsible with their lives who are now out of work, have lost their pensions or have lost loved ones to war. Those people have something to complain about.
But for the rest of us, maybe he is right. Many people in this country have lived the good life for so long that we didn't want to believe that the days of high cost energy and tight oil supplies would come. We didn't think about the fact that all that personal debt we have gone into could hurt the countrys national security. And most Americans don't see the world divided up into industrialized and non-industrialized countries; many see the rest of the world as the third world whether those countries are in Asia, Europe, Africa or South America. Many of us have little respect for people from other lands. We can truly be ugly Americans at times.
I hear people say all the time that America is the greatest country in the world and then they go on to complain about everything that is going on from gas prices to the mortgage crisis. To me America is the greatest country in the world; we as individuals have rights and privileges which literally few other places enjoy. We have the chance to grow and progress as people, materially, socially and spiritually, more than anyplace on earth. Those are the things that truly make America great. America isn't great because we can drive our seven mile per gallon SUV anywhere we want for a buck a gallon. It's not great because we can have our name on property with no money down, and then ask the government to bail us out when we find that we can't afford to make the payments. It's not great because we can build 4000 square foot houses for two people to live in while the energy they use could supply 10 homes in other parts of the world. America is great because it is an idea, not a thing.
Let's face it we are spoiled, in fact spoiled rotten. But our day of such ease is coming to the end. We have to pay the price for 60 years of gluttony, spending and irresponsibility. Some may say this mess we are in is the wrath of God for our decadent ways. I don't believe that; we are just witnessing the same thing that happens to individuals who live their lives on the edge and then fall off it one day.
So who is to blame for this mess? Of course we have to find a villain; there has to be someone, somewhere that is responsible for this. We could blame our politicians; but who continued to elect them into office for the last 30 years despite warnings about what they were doing would inevitably end up putting us in the poor house.
And what about large corporations. Greedy CEO's with large bonus' and their eyes only on quarterly profits rather than on the big picture. But the fact is that the big auto makers, big oil and big money handling corporations were only doing what their stockholders wanted; showing big returns every quarter. And who owns most of the stock in these companies? The American people; if not directly then through pension funds, 401K's etc. We all wanted fast returns on our money, so we pushed them.
Then there are the banks and mortgage companies. We can blame them all we want for unethical practices, but many of us were surely lured by their lax rules on lending money. Sure they shouldn't have loaned money for houses that cost $800,000 to people making $20,000 a year, but don't the people receiving these loans have some responsibility for taking on debt they know they can't afford? Suddenly that great and wonderful mortgage company that gave lower income people a break on a home is the big bad enemy because now they need to collect their money and those that borrowed the money can't pay it back? And most of that non-payment is not because people lost their jobs, but because the borrower didn't plan for the day when the bill would come due.
And I don't even want to get into health care costs, the war, social problems, immigration, drug use and gang violence.
A long time ago we were warned the energy crisis would bite us in the rear end; we knew that poorly leveraged loans could destroy the financial system; we could see the foreign car companies catching up in sales with our auto makers; we saw that the rest of the world was progressing to match up with us. But our arrogance about a lot of that has now become our downfall. Now we whine because we can't take the vacation we have always taken year after year because of the higher cost. We whine because the gas guzzler we bought now costs us more to fill up than the price of our first car when we were a teenager. We whine because our health insurance no longer gives us everything for "free," but instead makes us cpugh up a co-pay for drugs and doctor office visits.
I think we need to get real and recognize that the world has changed. The 21st century is not "the American century," like the last one was. And while America is still a great place, things will not be the same for the rest of our lives, for our children or our grandchildren. That doesn't mean it will be necessarily worse, but it will be very different. The direction it goes depends on what decisions we make today.
We need to change how we look at things and the rest of the planet. We need to take decisive action in the areas of energy, finance and manufacturing. We need to bite the bullet on some things, while we work on others.
That is the only way we can be a nation of winners, rather than a nation of whiners.