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WHEN MY husband and I rented a car recently, we were delighted to find that it came equipped with satellite radio. Our own cars had factory-installed radios that left much to be desired in the way of reception. We sang along with oldies from the 1950s and '60s, laughed with the audiences of public radio shows such as "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me," and followed a Nats game from start to finish. The drive went by very quickly.
As someone who attended high school in the late '60s,
I know the spot, peaceful and fair,
I'd be so happy if I were there.
No matter where I'd chance to be,
Connecticut is the place for me.
I realize that songs like this may well have been popular because, for the first half of that decade, we were a nation at war. They may have been almost a form of propaganda, as most of the offerings were upbeat and relentlessly cheerful. The music must have been a tonic for radio listeners worried about loved ones serving overseas, and smarting from a decade of Depression.
Well, perhaps we could use a bit of music therapy today. We're in desperate need of a change in attitude.
As we head into Election Day, just a little over a week away, what is impossible to ignore is the heated, bitter, and hyperbolic--to put it kindly--political rhetoric. Even with my finger continually poised over the "mute" button on the television remote, it's been a difficult year. The economy is not good, it may not be for quite some time, and Americans are angry.
We read and hear that America will cease to exist
I continue to ask myself: Whatever happened to our can-do spirit? The "America is the best" way of thinking? The "we'll come through this together" notion? The "my candidate may not win, but as an American, I'll support the president" feeling?
It's been a tough century thus far, I'll admit. But we're too impatient: We expect immediate results, a way back to our free-spending, life-is-good ways. We find ourselves dismayed--and rightfully so--by jobs that are, at best, impermanent. Our security blanket--that employment of some sort is available for those who seek it--is gone. There's a sense of unease. We're told: Work hard. Save for retirement, but don't retire just yet. Send your kids to college. Own a home.
To which many of us could well respond: We'd like to! We really would! But some things are out of our hands, just as they were in previous bad times.
BETTER TIMES AHEAD?
Is our reaction to this an indication that America's best times are behind her?
Thinking back to England after World War II, does the U.S. now find itself in this position? After all, England was instrumental in winning the war, but lost, too. The empire was, for the most part, gone. The English people suffered through years of rationing, long beyond V-E Day, and many of them have found themselves on the dole ever since.
Now, I'm not going to get into the socialism debate, or talk about whether we need to get out of Afghanistan or discuss which candidate I feel would do the best job in the difficult times that remain ahead. Regardless of whom we elect, we must contend not only with a perilous deficit but a national poverty rate of about 15 percent.
Our infrastructure is crumbling; our schools face huge challenges; America's manufacturing sector--with its good-paying jobs--has left the building. High school and college graduates cannot find employment.
Our politicians talk about "plans" for economic recovery but offer few specifics.
ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE?
There is still much that is right about our country, of course. The strong legacy of our Founding Fathers, our many freedoms, and our capacity to truly work together when push comes to shove may yet sustain us. Most of the world's population would kill to live here. But there's a nagging feeling that this may be a country whose best times are behind it, as happened with other great empires in history.
I contend that a big part of our problem is that we're driving ourselves crazy--literally--by our obsession with politics, Internet "communication," and a consuming belief that "I'm right, and you're an idiot!"
On top of that, we seen to have ceased to recognize--or even care about--truth. A quote attributed to Karl Rove says it best: "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality." If we're told a whopper by a politician or a blogger, and it appeals to our sensibility, we think of it as gospel. No questions asked. Worse than that, should we find ourselves corrected, we automatically shake our heads.
Perhaps our outlook would improve if we paid attention to our hearts, read a novel, or listened to a bit of cheerful music. Chat with a neighbor over the backyard fence, or experience a day away from the home computer or television talk shows. Share a meal and conversation with friends or family.
But we could also remember that whoever is elected will be our president. We should support him or at very least give him a chance. That was once the American way. Otherwise, all the happy music in the world will not soothe our fevered brows. I confess that I'm already bracing myself for that eventuality.
Karen Owen is Viewpoints editor