Wednesday, May 14, 2008

CHARM OFFENSIVE. At the Wall Street Journal, Zachary Karabell reports:
According to the most recent polls, more than 75% of the American public believes the economy is in bad shape. All three remaining candidates for president are treating the economy as the biggest electoral issue, and all agree the situation is dire.

The normally sanguine Alan Greenspan recently observed that the current economic mess is "the most wrenching" since World War II; Fortune magazine's Allan Sloan, who's been covering the business of business for decades says, "I'm more nervous about the world financial system than I've ever been in 40 years."
Then he tells Obama, Clinton, McCain, Greenspan, Fortune, and the rest of us not to be so gloomy, because it was worse in the Great Depression and the Carter Administration. And folks in other nations don't have our confidence problem: "Today, in China or in Dubai, you can feel the electric hum of activity, ambition and sheer optimism about the future... China's stock market was down almost 50% in the past months, yet that has hardly dented the optimism."

China's enthusiasm is touching. If only we could be more like those people. Maybe representative democracy is our problem. Karabell doesn't say, which is frustrating, as his essay is titled "Who Stole the American Spirit?" But he does say that "our deep pessimism and fear places us at serious disadvantage globally." First candidate to propose universal Xanax distribution wins his vote, I expect.

Don Surber also wants us to cheer up, but being a downmarket vendor he can eschew Karabell's bipartisan bullshit. He explicitly blames Democrats and their handmaiden the Associated Press, whose "reports only reflect a pampered society that expects stocks to go up, prices to remain constant and employment to be permanent."

Both writers want America to snap out of it. I am in some sympathy with them. For years I've been telling my fellow Americans how wrong they are, and a grim job it has been, though I have learned to leaven my lot with laughter. Fortunately I haven't had to do it so much lately, as the citizens seem to be catching on.

Now Surber, Karabell, and a lot of other people are in the box, and I don't envy them, particularly as they seem deeply invested in getting people to vote for their candidates, and inclined to take it personally if they don't.

I am not naturally disposed to give them good advice, but I can afford this suggestion, since it is unlikely that they will take it: telling Americans how stupid they are to feel discontented never, ever works. Sell optimism as strenuously as you like -- if the punters aren't buying it, the sale cannot be made.

Other strategies are available to the GOP, and Lord knows they're exploring them. But the smiley-face strategy, however inappropriate it seems now, has been part of their DNA since the Reagan days, and they are as unlikely to abandon it as any salesman who has been selling damaged goods at top dollar for twenty-odd years. So come Convention time expect, along with the racist palaver, a lot of happy-clappy talk about America's economic might. We won't believe it, and they won't either. But as we are all Americans, and inclined to think well even of our lesser brethren, it will be easier for all of us to pretend that they have something to offer besides bigotry and naked self-interest.

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