Why Are We Complaining?
Grenier, Richard, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Foreigners from other democratic societies must have found this last, craziest, noisiest and most turbulent of all New Hampshire primary elections a bizarre spectacle. Almost outnumbered by the thousands of media reporters, where were these stolid New Hampshirites who were to choose the Republican nominee? They were mysteriously less in evidence, sometimes scarcely to be found. Is this what Americans have come to call "retail" politics? If so, what was "wholesale politics?" Most European countries, I suppose, have by comparison perhaps "boutique" politics.
But an even more important element of the New Hampshire primary was all the groaning and complaining. Job insecurity. Stagnant incomes. Health care reform. Welfare reform. Illegal immigration. The budgetary deficit. Trade deficits. Women's rights. And, of course, crime. All in all, it would seem, bleak prospects for a once mighty people.
Few Americans - and, apparently even fewer in New Hampshire - seem aware that almost every one of our great European trading partners is in far greater economic difficulties than America - with double our unemployment rate, budget deficit, slower growth and so on. Why then, for that matter, do these Europeans (and East Asians) seem less bitter and cynical about life? More convinced that something or somebody has failed them?
I no longer remember exactly when I first heard the expression "The Revolution of Rising Expectations." But it was in my school years in Europe, and from the lips of a youth of the Marxist-Leninist persuasion. I had been arguing that capitalism and America had been chalking up a fairly decent record after all, and my interlocutor pulled me up short with a question: Why then in America was there so much dissatisfaction? Why weren't Americans happier? His position was that a proper socio-economic system should be able to fulfill all wants, cure all social ills. A few years later, speaking Russian, he journeyed to Moscow and was bitterly disappointed, transferring all his hopes and dreams to Mao's China, after which we lost touch.
But it wasn't just Marxist-Leninist visionaries who felt that in an intelligently organized society virtually all man's expectations should be fulfilled. In America itself, the general belief, after our dramatic victory in World War II -with government and industry working in tandem - was that there was almost nothing that this country could not accomplish. …