A new poll has brought some welcome news. When asked, “Do you think the country is headed in the right direction?” more responders say yes than no. This is in stark contrast to the latter stages of the Bush administration, when the no’s were mounting to unheard-of levels, past 80%. The headline says that President Obama’s honeymoon isn’t over, but this poll means something more.
It’s about the melodrama of meltdown.
Mass media thrives on melodrama, and so does modern politics. We became addicted to the scary side of the economic meltdown — the term itself is a piece of verbal melodrama. We were “going over the cliff,” “crashing,” “ending the American dream,” and on and on. In the political arena, the right wing issued dire warnings about holding the next three generations hostage with crippling deficits.
But melodramas don’t end a crisis. They do just the opposite by freezing the mind with fear and the prospect of doom. Economists constantly tell us that markets are psychological. Recessions, while normal if unpleasant parts of the business cycle, spiral into depressions when the public panics. Melodrama is one stage of panic, so it’s good news when people don’t buy into it. The new poll is one indicator, if a small one, that our no-drama president is actually leading the country and convincing the public of his point of view.
If you stand back and take a breath, the realities are difficult but not panic-inducing. White collar unemployment among the college educated stands around 4.5%, which is low. The hardest hit are blue collar workers. They have been at a disadvantage for years as the American economy has shifted. Today you have to have computer skills to survive; working on an assembly line is becoming obsolete. What’s to be done? Exactly what the administration wants to do: educate the young and provide help for those who can’t change or who are caught in the current squeeze.
The same holds for health care. Health care is bankrupting the country and making American products non-competitive in the world. To cure those ills, the government has to reform the entire system, and that in turn will lead to higher taxes. No one is thrilled with this news, but it’s not a cause for melodrama. In an aging society, rising health needs exist, no ifs, ands, or buts. The issue has been pushed aside for eight years; now it must be faced.
One by one you can go down the list and see that we’ve reached a turning point. America has to be reinvented for the future. Obama realizes this, as do many other people. For the first time, however, he has the will, the political clout, and the public approval to move forward. All previous presidents lacked one or the other ingredient, so nothing was done. Echoing the Bush administration’s enforced policy of diverting attention from our problems, the forces that foment melodrama are trying to shut down the future. They have seized on a new tactic like tea parties, but the agenda is the same reactionary delusion as before. We find ourselves in convulsive times, but that’s no reason to panic. Everyone wants a future, and now we can actually shape the one that fits our best vision of ourselves.
Published in the San Francisco Chronicle