by Chelsey Simpson
During the second presidential debate on Tuesday, a woman who grew up during the Great Depression asked the candidates, “What sacrifices will you ask every American to make to help restore the American Dream and to get out of the economic morass that we are now in?”
In his answer, Senator John McCain mentioned eliminating vague government “projects.” Then he pointed out that as Americans we can accomplish whatever we set our minds to.
Senator Barack Obama’s answer was slightly more specific. He criticized President George W. Bush for telling people to “shop” after 9-11. He then mentioned energy conservation and admitted that we need real leadership in this area.
I think that Obama is on the right track, but I was still disappointed in the candidates’ answers because, in classic political style, they took the path of least resistance and gave an answer that would pacify the masses. But if we are tired of pandering, (and actually I don’t think most Americans are) we have no one to blame but ourselves. Anything less than blatant optimism and full-throated encouragement of the myth of American entitlement is met with accusations of unpatriotic behavior.
When I graduated from Cameron University in 2004, I was thrilled and honored that National Public Radio’s Linda Wertheimer would be delivering the commencement address. She said many things of value, but the one that stayed with me was her suggestion that we make the best of every situation. “You are entering the world at a difficult time, and you might not be able to go out into the workforce and make a lot of money, and that’s okay,” she said (I’m paraphrasing here). “So go out into the world and do what you can do: serve your country, start a family, follow your passions. There will be time for other things later.”
The crowd booed her. Members of my own family deemed her a “downer.” Apparently it is anti-American to suggest that things in general—and money in particular—are not instantaneously available to us at all times. But can you blame us? All the evidence supports this view of the world. Infertility is now a treatment, and “On Demand” is the name of our television service. There are entire stores devoted to cabinet hardware. We buy our meats de-boned, de-skinned and often pre-cooked. Today buying a yoga mat for my mother-in-law, I lamented the fact that there were only five to choose from, and the one I wanted was in color I didn’t like.
I haven’t been around long enough to say this from personal experience, but I suspect we haven’t always been this way. I love to hear people tell stories about the days when things like bananas and oranges were special treats. It might seem strange to be nostalgic for an absence and a craving I never knew, but longing and anticipation are sweet fruits in themselves, and they are in very short supply.
To be more direct, I think that the presidential candidates should have looked into the camera and told all of us that what we want and what we need are very different creatures. In a world where 2.6 billion people do not have access to a toilet of any kind, we should be prepared to put on a sweater if we are cold, carpool even if it is not as convenient, and stop eating foods grown half a world away.
I can hear the chorus now: Yes, we could do those things, but the fact that we don’t have to is what makes America great. Really? Is that how we have decided to define ourselves? Should we be known as The People of the Perpetually Ripe Avocado? The United States of Effective Air Conditioning?
I hope not.