“It’s your attitude, stupid”

Eben Carle Contributor
Font Size:

One of the great curiosities of this year is the number of ways people are explaining America’s rage.

Tom Friedman, patron saint of suburban liberalism, recently divided America’s anger into two camps: the thoughtfully-angry and those just blowing off steam, which he dubbed “The Tea Kettle Movement.” One has to wonder where this concern for the intellectual merit of angry mobs was back in 2008.

Reuters ran a piece that compared the Tea Party to the Evangelical Movement, implying, with the subtlety of a jackhammer, that the Tea Party is little more than remodeled Evangelicalism.

Time Magazine sent Joe Klein out on a four-week road trip to determine what Americans are “really thinking” — presumably to apprise us of our thoughts.

The mainstream media is desperate to put America on its therapy couch, and it reflects a rather profound lack of self-awareness. The very outposts that spent two decades telling America it’s headed for hell suddenly seem surprised that Americans feel like they’re living in it.

A recent ABC News poll showed that 85% of Americans are angry about the economy. Eighty-five percent.

Those are Bastille Day numbers.

They reiterate Clinton’s line: “It’s the economy, stupid.” But the economy doesn’t embrace the whole picture — attitude is the larger part.  The economy that became an engine of prosperity is fueled by our natural optimism. Yet there seems to be a sort of clinical depression infecting the highest perches of America: a misery that stretches from the political hierarchy to the mass media. It is making our journey out of the recession an unnecessarily slow crawl. A slog. A long road trip with a van full of whiners. Economies, like people, don’t dance when the band’s playing funeral marches.

Versions of the “America falling” narrative has occupied the prime real estate of opinion pages nationwide, ad nauseam. That kind of talk has always been overplayed. It’s the kind of background noise that, more than a commentary on the state of America, betrays a bit too much glee on the part of the pundit when discussing her collapse.

Reports of “America falling” have been rampant since she stood up. In the 1860s, the New York press lambasted Abraham Lincoln as a warmonger bent on destroying the nation. In the 1920s, America was accused of “stalling” as cultural critics heralded the far more advanced political structures of fascism and communism. Look to the high points in our history and those quickest to criticize America have been on the wrong side of it. Whenever times get complicated, there begins an almost masochistic race to write an American eulogy.

Yes, the world is complicated…but it’s not that complicated. We’ve always triumphed by the strength of our optimism. America needs a leader who, in good times and bad, enters the room like a champagne-soaked World Series celebration.

Americans — depressed, broke and sobered — need the moxy of Harry Truman. They need the cockeyed smile of Eisenhower, who once said, “I can think of nothing more boring for the American people than to have to sit in their living rooms for a whole half hour looking at my face on their television screens.”

America is scouring the landscape for a leader who understands that they have better things to do than follow the White House on Facebook and Twitter.

That kind of leader remains a mirage — but when the smoke clears on Election Day, Americans will have unleashed the primary gift of the Constitution: gridlock. The father of our Constitution, James Madison, recognized that gridlock is the goal. He envisioned a system specifically designed to curtail the government’s ceaseless appetite for the irrelevant.

Madison prophesied that the most dangerous “wing nuts” are not sent to Washington, they are cultivated there. Today, with Capitol Hill curiously resembling a progressive college campus full of monologues and Blackberry seizures, the reality-gap has widened. In times of single party dominance, wing-nuttery reigns supreme.

You get the Terry Schiavo lunacy of 2005. You get a trillion-dollar healthcare labyrinth that actually manages to increase medical costs to individuals and doctors alike.

Washington gridlock will quicken our economic recovery. American corporations are currently sitting on record reservoirs of cash — nearly $2 trillion — a juggernaut of capital that hasn’t been injected into the economy for the same reason you don’t whip out your bankroll on Bourbon Street. On November 2nd, when the activists are put on ice, that $2 trillion inches closer to Main Street.

Things will get better. And when they do you can thank two people: the face in the mirror for weathering this madness with dignity; and that other guy, the 5’4” giant from Virginia, James Madison, who understood long before $13 trillion deficits that sometimes governments need a time out.

Eben Carle served in the White House as an Associate Director on the Homeland Security Council from 2008-2009. He received a master’s degree in American studies from Columbia University and is currently writing his first novel.