When Did the United States Become a Nation of Pussies?

Today is the 39th anniversary of the day that American astronauts first set foot on the moon.

Think about that a moment. Within ten years, this great country was able to go from being unable to fire a rocket into space, to putting men into space, then creating a way for them to land on the moon, take off from the moon, and return home safely, six out of seven times.

Contrast that with today, 39 years later, when we’re looking at taking 20 years to increase the average gas mileage of our cars to 34 miles per gallon, and lessening our use of "foreign oil."

When World War II was declared, a factory in Detroit that made Ford automobiles was retrofitted to manufacture helicopters for the war effort, and was able to do so in the space of eight weeks.

Contrast that with today, when all American car companies claim they can’t compete in the global market, and they have to shut down for years, just to be able to make cars that people want to drive, cars they should have been making all along.

During World War II, our leadership was able to mobilize the entire country to defeat the Nazis and Japanese Imperial Forces, two of the most formidable powers in the history of world, and helped defeat them within four years.   

Contrast that with today, when our leadership expects us to cower in fear at rogue actors who might strap a bomb to their waist and blow up everyone within a short distance.

What have we become? We’re afraid of everything these days. How have we gone from "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," to the current attitude, whereby; we’re afraid of terrorists, because they might want to "kill us for our freedoms;" we’re afraid to switch to alternative fuels, because it might entail pumping something other than gas; we’re afraid to try anything new, because it may not work?

When did the United States become a nation of pussies?

The answer, of course, is a complete lack of political will to do anything about the problems we face.

When this country has the political will to do something, it usually gets it done. But the last 40 years or so have seen us lose our political will for bold, decisive action. I know we like to say we’re ready for anything that comes along, but are we really? It’s fashionable to say the United States is the greatest country in the history of the world, but the fact is, as we say that, we’re being overtaken by others on nearly every front. We’re already the second-largest economy in the world, having been overtaken by the European Union within the last five years, with China and India coming on strong, and we’re currently unable to take advantage of either of those huge markets in any significant way. We’re buying their goods, but we’re not making anything for them to buy. We have gone from being the largest creditor nation in the world, to being the largest debtor nation in the world. We have gone from having the largest trade surplus in the world, to running the largest trade deficit in the world. And how can a country with one of the most advanced medical systems in the world be 37th among industrialized nations, based on major health statistics, and deny more than a fifth of its people basic medical care, while spending far more than every other country in the world on health care?

The answer, of course, is a complete lack of political will on the part of our so-called "leadership." It started with Nixon, but it’s continued unabated since. If Nixon could have shut down the Apollo program, he would have. Likewise, he had no choice when he created OSHA and the EPA. The leftover political will was so strong for all of these programs, Nixon had no choice but to go along with them, if he wanted to get anything else done.

But something happened during the Nixon and Ford Administrations.

And economy we thought was invincible was shown to be less so. The Arab oil embargo happened, and Nixon, rather than fashioning the political will to reduce our dependence on oil, instead worked to keep prices artificially low. When it was time to renew the space program’s budget, Nixon killed Apollo, and instead launched the Space Shuttle program, with a far longer mission, closer to home, and costing far less money. He created OSHA and the EPA, but he didn’t give them much teeth. And he suddenly canceled the Bretton Woods Agreement, thus eliminating the gold standard once and for all, and allowing the government to print money at will. If you’re wondering why we had runaway inflation in the 1970s, now you know.

Ironically, it was Jimmy Carter (not Bill Clinton) who was the only president in the last 40 years to try to challenge the country, and change the political will for the better. For example, in 1977, Carter instituted energy efficiency standards that led to a 5% reduction in the use of oil every year until Reagan killed them in 1985. If those standards had continued, we would not be dependent on imported oil, we would not be looking at $4 per gallon gas, and we would all be driving vehicles that get upwards of 50 miles per gallon, so even if we had $ per gallon gas, it wouldn’t be breaking us, economically speaking. The reason interest rates went sky high under Carter, was because he was trying to instill some of the fiscal discipline that Bretton Woods had once enforced. Reagan usually gets credit for stopping that inflation, but Carter deserves the credit, because his policies solved the problem, not Reagan’s.

That’s the importance of political will, folks. The leadership sets the standard, and there has effectively been no standard for 36 of the last 40 years. Nixon had to continue to the moon, and set up OSHA and the EPA, because the political will set by the leadership of Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson had been so strong to that point, he had no choice.

What are our political imperatives these days? Don’t bother to even think of any because there are none. We were attacked by a group of religious fanatics on 9/11, and the response was to attack the country housing them. But we didn’t finish the job. Instead, we were led into an unjust war, against a country that wasn’t a threat, and left those who attacked us alone. The leadership asked for and received nearly $1 trillion for the occupation of another country, with no strings attached, without oversight, and without accountability. Meanwhile, the government abdicated most of its oversight responsibility, and continues to allow thieves to pillage the economy at will. At the same time, they actually encourage employers to send jobs to other countries, and fail to keep the economic infrastructure intact to any great degree.

In other words, whereas we used to be called to arms and called to sacrifice when our country was attacked, now, we’re not told to only fear fear itself; we’re told to make sure we have lots of plastic and duct tape, but please, by all means, make sure we can’t stop spending money.

As a result of this inaction by our so-called leadership, we are a nation of people in debt up their eyeballs, a growing number of poor, a shrinking middle class, an economy that has only survived through a series of bubbles. We are a former manufacturing power that no longer manufactures goods, and we have technology that could move us away from our addiction to foreign oil and reduce the effect of $4 per gallon gas and $5 per gallon diesel, but we’re told that we have to wait about a half century to do so.

How could a country go from being told we will land a man on the moon in ten years, to being told that we can’t expect to see 35 miles per gallon as a standard for at least 20 more years?

It’s called a complete lack of leadership and political will.

We can’t afford any more leaders who tell us we can’t do things. We need leadership — and I’m not just talking about presidents — that will tell us what we can do, and tell us what we can all do to get there. We need leadership that stops worrying about the short-term cost, and starts looking at things from a long term investment perspective. There were so many side technological side benefits to the space program, to look at the program’s actual cost in dollars back in the 1960s is to ignore the industrial benefits to come out of investment in that program. From running shoes to computers, to battery technology, to medical monitoring equipment; hundreds of industries benefited from the technology that stemmed from NASA trying to find solutions to problems.

We need leadership that understands that providing a GI Bill to soldiers is not an expense, it’s an investment. Those soldiers will get an education, and become good, hardworking taxpayers, so long as they’re not killed in an unnecessary war. We need leadership that comprehends that moving the country away from oil dependency will not kill oil companies at all, but instead will create new industries, and new jobs for a new generation of Americans. We need leadership capable of realizing that reasonable government regulation is an absolute necessity; that private markets only care about profits, and that the purpose of government is to keep the markets honest, and to provide a marketplace for everyone that is fair and competitive. And we need leadership in this country that is politically disposed to the concept that certain aspects of life that our society depends on simply cannot be subjected to absolute market forces, the chief example of this being health care. If the goal of our leadership is not to see to it that not one person dies from an illness just because they happen to be poor, then we don’t need them in a leadership position. It’s that simple.

Here are some suggested goals the leadership of this country needs to take on;

  • Cut our gasoline consumption by 50% within 20 years, and our overall oil consumption by 25% within 10 years. (They are not the same thing, which I will be explaining in a future column) Tax oil company profits and earmark that money for developing mass
    transit here at home, so that more people have a choice, and do not
    have to depend on their car to such a great degree. Along those same lines, put more money into the rail infrastructure, increasing commuter and freight lines nationwide. Trains are far more fuel efficient than trucks in hauling goods across the country, and hybrid engines are already used all over Europe. (As I will explain in my column on this, that does not mean an end to truckers, so don’t panic…)
  • Remove all subsidies to companies that send jobs overseas, remove all tax breaks for companies that relocate off-shore, and in general, stop giving our tax money to any company for any reason, except  building a new economy here at home.
  • Subsidize the development of natural energy sources, especially solar, wind, geothermal and tidal power, and encourage the development of smaller plants, as well as the development of personal home energy production, wherever practical.
  • Re-regulate financial markets, and stop pretending that "the markets" are somehow better at doing things than government. For some reason, we went more than 50 years after the institution of  New Deal financial controls without any sort of bubble, but since "deregulation," we have seen very little actual growth that’s not the result of some sort of artificial financial bubble. Bubbles burst, and without a regulatory scheme in place, we can’t even determine who’s responsible and enforce accountability.
  • Acknowledge that the United States is losing ground in the global economy, and in global culture, and suggest ways for Americans to make us the top dog again. The number one thing would be to stop complaining about "expenses" and start looking into "investment in our future." Welfare, Social Security and other programs are no simply costs to be contained; they should be looked upon as investments in our citizens. Social Security should be safe and secure for generations to come, period. Young people have to know it will be there when they retire. And welfare should be enough money to help a single mother get into the job market and get off it. College financial aid should not be seen as an expense but, along with a GI Bill, an investment to create more taxpayers, which will relieve the burden on all taxpayers.
  • Acknowledge that we as a nation are going to have to pay down our debt before we can talk about any more major tax cuts. As we pay the debt down, then we can start lowering them again. But to even discuss reducing our taxes, while our kids are staring at such a pile of debt is irresponsible and immoral.

We need leadership, folks; real leadership. Not that phony "John Wayne-style" leadership where having the biggest gun makes us the biggest, baddest boys on the block. But a real, honest leadership that tells us what’s wrong, and looks for ways to help us fix it.

Because of our lack of leadership, we’ve become a nation of pussies. We’re capable of far more than we have accomplished in the last 40 years. We once put men on the moon and brought them back several times, and before that, we defeated the Nazis, the Imperial Japanese, and eventually, the Communists. Now, we’re scared to death of a few thugs who are plotting to blow up a few buildings, and we are scared to death of switching from oil and coal to solar and wind power.

Let me make this clear, folks. I am not agreeing with Phil Gramm, and saying the United States is made up of 300 million individual whiners. I’m saying that our leadership is made up of people who have a vested interest in keeping the people fearful and compliant. We can’t be fearful and compliant and be a great nation.

Is this where we want to be as a country? Really?

One comment

  1. I also think that privatization plus a ‘cult of individual self interest’ has lead to a dangerous hyperconsumerism. Benjamin Barber looks at this in his book “Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole.” IOW, the politicians could well be a symptom of a larger problem. I think Obama’s appeal is not just his policies — or even primarily his policies — but the hope that he might actually be willing to take on the system rather than just game it.

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