Time to Rescue America (Says Time)

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When it comes to nation branding, America’s brand needs a hero. Captain America the movie won’t be released until July. But will that be soon enough for us to spot the superhero on the horizon? America needs rescuing right now. 

At least that’s what a Carteresque essayist in TIME magazine is saying this week. Fareed Zakaria asks, “Are America’s Best Days Behind Us?” His answer seems to be “yes.” His thesis also will be the subject of a special airing Sunday on CNN, Restoring the American Dream: Getting Back to No. 1.

What is Zakaria all depressed about?

Basically, he bemoans America’s lack of government-directed investments for the future in the “right” science and technology, the low test scores of American schoolkids relative to their rivals around the world, partisan gridlock in Washington, and other worries many Americans have for the future.

He makes several good points about our crumbling infrastructure and our clear lead in obesity, and so on. He also says we should be more like the Scandinavians.[more]

His argument includes several other major weaknesses. For one thing, Zakaria wants the United States to “make an honest accounting of where it stands and what it can learn from other countries.” That sounds an awful lot like the liberals on the U.S. Supreme Court who want to apply other nations’ laws to help revise our own. Isn’t it “other countries” that now are “learning” from America’s example of democratic overthrow of tyrants, and using digital platforms developed in our country to help them?

And oh, yes – Zakaria says that Americans are small-minded because we “simply don’t care much, know much or want to learn much about the outside world.” Really? It sounds like he’s describing chauvinistic American tourists visiting the Colosseum in about 1972.

But perhaps the biggest flaw is that Zakaria barely mentions the choking government debt that is a direct result of all the “wrong” spending. And of course he posits higher taxes – though only enlightened, and targeted properly – as an important part of any “solution.” 

The essayist never even hints at the possibility that the real key to creating epic robustness in the American economy again might be slashing the deficit, cutting taxes, getting government off the backs of businesses big and small, and investing in a grassroots rebound that optimizes the advantages of what he calls the world’s “most dynamic technology companies” and our “highly entrepreneurial climate.” 

Zakaria, for instance, might want to read what Alan Greenspan had to say yesterday about U.S.-government “activism” holding back our economic recovery.

Another slight: the U.S. military. Zakaria doesn’t cite this “best-in-class” pillar of democracy as a reason for hope for America in any way, even as he focuses heavily on our disadvantages versus global rivals. He just concedes that we have the world’s “largest military by far” (and that Americans “have the most guns.”)

And in his list of factors that comprise the “secret sauce” of Western civilization, he neglects to mention the religious yearnings that have helped fuel success as much as “competition” and “modern science” have – a spiritual component that clearly has been critical in America’s growth.

Zakaria also gives short shrift to the potential transformative effects of new leadership, like that provided by Roosevelt and Kennedy and others. Just as President Obama has allowed the United States to be discounted abroad, some other leader could help us reverse course just as Reagan did after the impotence of the Carter years.

Too bad Zakaria’s show on CNN probably is already fully in the can. The network could have invited departing Chicago Mayor Richard Daley to provide some flavor – and an antidote to Zakari’s argument. Hizzoner said this week that America’s biggest problem is we’re a “country of whiners” and that we can actually “compete with any nation.”

Substitute a few particulars, and Zakaria’s plaint reads almost like those screeds from a few years ago describing the world’s impending doom due to the immediate and long-term ravages of global warming. And we all know how that has worked out.

For the counterargument to Zakaria, check out David Von Drehle’s “Don’t Bet Against the United States” essay in the same cover package — and then let us know what you think about the state of Brand America these days.

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