More than 200,000 jobs created each month over the last six months; 9.9 million jobs created since the recession; the gross domestic product increased by 4 percent over the last quarter; consumer spending is up; auto sales are the highest since 2007; the stock market has more than doubled since the crash of 2008.
America has every reason to be optimistic, yet we are truly down in the dumps.
An August NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows 71 percent believe we are on the wrong track, and only 21 percent think we are headed in the right direction. A full 64 percent are dissatisfied with the state of the U.S. economy, and 33 percent very dissatisfied. Even 62 percent are dissatisfied with America’s role in the world, and 79 percent are dissatisfied with our political system; 49 percent are very dissatisfied.
It ain’t pretty out there.
If we are computing a “Depression Index,” we should add two more numbers. When asked whether America is in a state of decline or not in decline, the poll shows 60 percent say we’re in decline while 38 say we are not. Americans who have traditionally been optimistic about the future now feel, by 76 percent to 21 percent, that their children’s lives will not be better than theirs.
When things are getting better, people are feeling worse. So where does this leave us as we approach the November elections?
President Barack Obama can talk about the recovery, as he has in numerous speeches. But many don’t feel it, and many more don’t believe it. The jolt that was the 2008 crash and ensuing recession permeates us just as the 1929 crash lasted for over a decade.
So maybe it is time for the president to inspire the confidence, resilience and optimism that have always been part of who we are as Americans. Maybe it is time for Obama to put forth not only the facts of where we are economically but where this is going to take us, how we are coming out of the 2008 near-depression and where we will end up.
Maybe it is time for the president to talk about our progress towards a New America, one where we are making the transition to a highly-educated economy, where we are sharing burdens overseas, where we are battling discrimination on all fronts and where we declare a commitment to the middle class that our fight is their fight.
Maybe it is time for some new initiatives like universal service where our young people are called to serve their country at some time between the ages of 18 to 27. Maybe we should truly revamp our schools so that they go year-round and provide the kinds of programs that inspire students as well as educate them. Maybe we should revamp our polarizing political system, work to end how we finance our elections and stop the gerrymandering of our congressional districts. Maybe we should reform the way Congress does business, by changing the filibuster, redoing the budget process and tossing out arcane rules that have paralyzed our political system.
If Obama can raise people’s optimism, call them to higher standards and give them a sense that there is so much to fight for and change, he will find followers and raise the level of discourse. This is a president that can inspire, and America needs that now more than ever.