Monday, November 10, 2008

The National Mood

Do you remember, in the days after 9/11, that defining moment when George Bush ordered the traumatized nation to go out and shop?

If so, you also remember the gales of derision that were thrown at him. Only a fool could turn a tragedy into inanity.

As it happened, people from all over the country did flock to New York to do their Christmas shopping in September. Everyone was grateful for the gesture of solidarity.

Everyone, that is, except the great American thinking class. Appalled at the triteness of the presidential gesture, it insisted that, in time of trouble, the president should have called for sacrifice. We needed sackcloth and ashes, not Prada purses and Chinese toys.

Didn't the president know that we needed to heal. How dare he ignore the therapy culture's assertion that we were a psychically troubled nation in need of long term therapy? In place of the mindless consumerism the president was promoting, the therapy culture told us to introspect... the better to understand why they hated us?

Most serious thinkers draw their theoretical sustenance from the radical left. And the radical left did not see 9/11 as an attack on American freedom and enterprise. In their mythic worldview, 9/11 showed that the world's oppressed peoples were rising up to smite their capitalist and consumerist oppressors.

Of course, pompous intellectuals rant about consumerism all the time. Mostly, they do so from within the safe confines of their tenured professorships. No one really pays them much notice.

But, what happens when people take their critique seriously and begin acting on it?

They look deep into their souls to see how their purchases of doodads and widgets are responsible for all of the world's poverty and hunger and misery. Then, naturally enough, they stop shopping.

Perhaps it is pure happenstance, but that is what is going on right now. Our economic crisis is not merely a credit freeze. It extends to a shopper's boycott. People are not shopping; they have cut back on going to restaurants; they are buying far fewer cars and homes.

As shopping goes, so goes the American economy. Once consumers get out of the habit of shopping, it is not all that easy to get them back into it. Just ask the Japanese. If they stay out of it too long then we will have a severe economic contraction.

The question is: will the national mood continue to be so pessimistic now that we have elected a new president who embodies hope.

Clearly, the Obama message is not entirely clear on these points. Does Obama want to bring out and build on our best or does he want to redeem the nation's flaws, faults, and failures? Does his election herald a new Reaganesque era of optimism about the greatness of America and about our ability to solve any problem or does it promise a new round of public therapy to exorcise the demons of our past?

The two are not the same. One way you will be able to tell is to see whether Obama addresses the nation and tells everyone to go out and shop. Better yet, he should display his optimism about the future by setting an example. The country will be willing to emulate the example he sets with his own wonderful family. Shouldn't he use that leverage by taking them all on a shopping spree?

Christmas is approaching. Retailers always count on Christmas sales to make their years. President-elect Obama would do the nation a great service by showing us all the way... to the mall.

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