Ac­cen­tu­ate the pos­i­tive

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Don­ald Lam­bro

Last week Amer­i­cans gath­ered to­gether to ex­press their grat­i­tude to the Almighty for the bless­ings He has be­stowed on this na­tion of in­ex­haustible abun­dance and free­dom.

The poll­sters tell us Amer­i­cans have never been more pes­simistic about the coun­try’s di­rec­tion, ex­press­ing deep dis­ap­proval of its lead­ers and in­sti­tu­tions at all lev­els of gov­ern­ment. And heaven knows we’ve got some trou­bles that have stretched our pa­tience, from the Iraq war to a sharply po­lar­ized elec­torate whose po­lit­i­cal lead­ers can’t seem to agree about any­thing on be­half of the com­mon good.

Seen from the na­tion’s cap­i­tal, where pol­i­tics is a blood sport fu­eled by non­stop bick­er­ing and back­stab­bing, things look pretty bleak. But pub­lic per­cep­tions, shaped by a 24/7 news cy­cle that is over­whelm­ingly neg­a­tive, can be mis­lead­ing.

Go out into the coun­try, and a very dif­fer­ent pic­ture emerges of the land we in­habit. Amer­i­cans go to work each day to run our busi­nesses, hos­pi­tals, nurs­ing homes, schools, churches and char­i­ties and ev­ery­thing in be­tween.

They work very hard — and the pro­duc­tiv­ity data backs this up — and usu­ally with­out ran­cor, guile or com­plaint. The at­mos­phere at a typ­i­cal lun­cheon gath­er­ing of Ki­wa­nis or Ro­tary clubs, and other com­mu­nity civic or­ga­ni­za­tions, is one of fel­low­ship, char­ity and tol­er­ance — in sharp con­trast to the poi­sonous, self­ab­sorbed cli­mate we ex­pe­ri­ence in the cap­i­tal.

So per­haps this pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity to take stock of what’s right with our coun­try, in­stead of just fo­cus­ing on what’s wrong. Cer­tainly the war in Iraq has taken a turn for the bet­ter, with the lev­els of ter­ror­ist vi­o­lence and civic un­rest down sharply as a re­sult of the U.S. troop surge. No one knows how long this rel­a­tive calm will last, but there are signs life in Iraq is im­prov­ing as a re­sult of our ef­forts to strengthen a demo­cratic gov­ern­ment in the midst of a vi­o­lent and volatile re­gion. Iraqis refugees are re­turn­ing home. More Iraqis are sign­ing up for the mil­i­tary and po­lice. Bagh­dad is a far more stable cap­i­tal than it once was, set­ting the scene for progress and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion among its many po­lit­i­cal fac­tions. Most im­por­tant, if the lull in the fight­ing lasts, it means some of our troops will come home sooner rather than later.

Here at home, we are blessed with a full-em­ploy­ment econ­omy where more Amer­i­cans are work­ing than at any other time in our his­tory. In­deed, we have la­bor short­ages in many sec­tors — from health care to tech­nol­ogy to agri­cul­ture.

In an in­creas­ingly com­pet­i­tive global mar­ket­place, where economies like those of China and In­dia are ex­plod­ing with growth, we re­main the largest and most af­flu­ent econ­omy on the planet.

We aren’t get­ting poorer — we’re grow­ing wealth­ier by ev­ery pos­si­ble mea­sure­ment. Our gross do­mes­tic prod­uct, the mea­sure of ev­ery­thing we pro­duce each year, is now up to $14 tril­lion and ris­ing.

Real wages are up and take­home pay on a per capita ba­sis has risen over 12 per­cent since Pres­i­dent Bush took of­fice.

We aren’t man­u­fac­tur­ing less, as many be­lieve. More U.S. prod­ucts are rolling off our as­sem­bly lines than ever be­fore and we sell more too, both here and abroad. True, we do it with fewer fac­tory work­ers, but that makes us more com­pet­i­tive and thus more pro­duc­tive.

We worry about the fed­eral debt and some say we need to raise taxes to bring it down, a pro­posal that would have dis­as­trous con­se­quences for our econ­omy and fu­ture job cre­ation. In fact, fed­eral tax rev­enues have been flow­ing into the U.S. Trea­sury at record lev­els, re­duc­ing the bud­get deficit faster than any­one pre­dicted.

A few years ago, with the na­tion deal­ing with mul­ti­ple dis­as­ters, from ter­ror­ist at­tacks to Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina, the deficit was headed to­ward $400 bil­lion. But the bud­get deficit fell to $162 bil­lion in fis­cal 2007 and the Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice says it will fall fur­ther next year.

De­spite the prob­lems of de­clin­ing home sales and the credit crunch, 70 per­cent of Amer­i­cans own their homes, more than at any time in our his­tory. No other na­tion comes close to that level of home­own­er­ship.

More than 50 per­cent of Amer­i­cans now own stocks ei­ther di­rectly or through mu­tual funds — a re­mark­able per­sonal stake in the U.S. econ­omy un­matched any­where on the globe.

Amer­i­cans are an im­pa­tient, get-the-job-done kind of peo­ple. It is one of our most en­dear­ing qual­i­ties. And it is usu­ally our na­ture to be op­ti­mistic about the fu­ture. But now we have grown darkly pes­simistic about where we are as a na­tion when there are good rea­sons to feel gen­uine en­thu­si­asm about who we are, what we’ve done and what we can still ac­com­plish in the years ahead.

Amer­ica has its share of prob­lems. What coun­try doesn’t? But there are also many rea­sons to give thanks that we live in a blessed repub­lic that, with all its faults, re­mains a land of ev­er­last­ing op­por­tu­nity. This Thanks­giv­ing Day, Amer­ica is still, in Ron­ald Rea­gan’s words, that “shin­ing city on a hill.”

Don­ald Lam­bro, chief po­lit­i­cal correspondent of The Wash­ing­ton Times, is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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