ARC's 1st Law: As a "progressive" online discussion grows longer, the probability of a nefarious reference to Karl Rove approaches one

Thursday, January 03, 2008

84% Are Right

Excellent OpEd by Dan Henninger in today's WSJ:

On New Year's Eve, Gallup's poll delivered unto us the good news that 84% of Americans say they are satisfied with how things are going for them personally. What Woody Allen might say about that phenomenal datum of good cheer one can only guess. One then has to account for the darker data Gallup released two weeks earlier: Some 70% of those responding believe the nation is headed in the wrong direction.

Explanations for this paradox would fill screen after screen of comments on Internet blogs, written no doubt by the 16% who can never be satisfied with "how things are going." Sample: It's the 46 million uninsured, stupid!


Let me describe a pre-election moment of perspective this way: Later today some people who will start their evening with Iowa's caucus by watching angry Lou Dobbs -- convincing themselves, again, that they and this country are getting shafted, and coming to this conclusion while watching a $700, 32-inch Samsung flat-panel, high-definition TV with Lou's sad song flowing through Monster digital coax cables to five Onkyo HT-SR800 home theater speakers.

If the possibility of human progress strikes you as so much background noise to the higher calling of political street-fighting, turn immediately to today's installment of Mitt versus Mike. Don't get me wrong, it is great theater. The perfect last act to a year spent living out of suitcases in Iowa was the irrepressible Elizabeth Edwards's verbal poke Monday to the eye of Michelle Obama. The Democratic candidates are kind of boring compared to their spouses.

None of this is to suggest that what is at stake in the election doesn't matter, or that those deeply invested in it are misallocating life's limited days. It matters.

It is to suggest that the never-off eye of modern political media leaves the impression that nothing good is possible. If progress happens, as with the surge in Iraq or a new therapy for cancer, it must be diminished by "analysis," listing four things that could "go wrong." As a way to absorb the way the world works, this is depressing. Good things happen. Get over it.

The Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics annually publishes data on the well-being of the nation's children, thought by many to be the point of all this effort.

In 1980, deaths per 100,000 U.S. children aged 5 to 14 was 30.6; by 2004, that number fell to 16.8. Some 25 years ago, daily cigarette smoking among 12th graders was about 21%; in 2006 it was about 12% for both males and females. Childhood immunizations are rising steadily.

In August, the Centers for Disease Control noted that the death rate in 2004 fell by 3.8% in a year, "a record low historical figure." Life expectancy for men and women at birth in 1940 was 63 years; it is now nearly 78 years. We, or someone, must be doing something right.

Many people think that the war in Iraq was a mistake. It indeed contributes to the belief that the U.S. is on the wrong track. This will be argued more deeply when just two candidates are running, and millions of voters will weight Iraq heavily in their November choice. So be it.

That said, the remarkable 12-month progress of the surge strategy demonstrated it is not beyond the ability of "the system" to respond to seemingly overwhelming problems. Credit is due to Gen. David Petraeus certainly, but an infrastructure of U.S. military brains went into designing the Army's Counterinsurgency Manual, published in 2006. Its bibliography includes many studies published since 2003. As such it represents the U.S. military's "best practices" on fighting a modern enemy like al Qaeda, and the surge's success showed we are not helpless before this latest form of nihilism. This to some may be bitter progress, but it is so.

One needs reminding, amid a presidential election as wide open as this, that however other nations wrestle with their wrong directions, we use the system that the Founding Fathers left for us. What's worth remembering is that they knew politics piles up retarding levels of animosity, and so created a political system that would let us both vent spleen and move forward. Our progress, though, would nearly always be slow and by increments. Sometimes, it's hard to notice.

It will continue to be the case here that people are going to kvetch over corners of the culture -- over immigration and national identity, or over relative wage levels, even as the rest of the world's poor finally start to join the middle class through globalizing trade channels (suppress those trade flows, as Congress is threatening, and you'll discover the real meaning of wrong direction). And not least there will be -- and should be -- concern over whether the progress I've described has the time or space in its good life for a sturdy spiritual soul.

The New Year demands an admission that some good has been achieved, not by the wave of a politician's magic wand but through many daily hands at work in the nation.

Henninger could've added to the flat screen tv the iPod nanos, High Def satellite service, the interweb access with streaming videos of idiots on YouTube, etc.

One question that I would pose to anyone who's in a funk about the value of the dollar or the current economy - If you had $500, in which year would you rather spend it now or in 1999? While inflation is certainly a fear, the overall value of the money in terms of the quality of the products you can buy with that same money is markedly better.

Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: St Wendeler