“Losing Our Way” by Bob Herbert.
More info struck down one racist statute after another; a time that gave us Medicare and Medicaid, thePeace Corps and the space program. The middle class, America’s proudest creation, wasthriving, and it was not yet a mortal sin for someone running for public office to mention the poor.In those heady, sunwashed days, described by the writer Nelson Lichtenstein as “the highnoon of American capitalism,” everything embodied in the great promise of the United States – freedom, equality, opportunity and widely-shared prosperity – appeared to be coming to fruition.Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote of the mid-1960s that “steadily increasing affluence seemed anenduring and irreversible reality of American life.” The Temptations of Motown, who helped power the era’s soundtrack, sang of momentary setbacks in love but felt compelled to add thesociological aside, “There’s plenty of work and the bosses are paying.” Half a century later the plaintive question of the elderly World War II veteran hung inthe air: “What happened?” How did this proud and triumphant nation, a dynamic and robustcountry that served as the economic and cultural model for much of the world, end up in suchdeep trouble, so deeply wounded? How did we reach a state of affairs in which the outlook hadgrown so dim? Why was there so much suffering in the United States – families crushed in theeconomic downturn, thousands upon thousands of GIs struggling with terrible physical and psychic wounds inflicted in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and millions of children whosefutures were being foreclosed by poverty and shrinking opportunities?The most direct answer to the veteran’s question was that as a society we had behaved irresponsibly, self-destructively, for decades. We lost sight of the effort and sacrificerequired to build and maintain a great nation. We refused to fend off the destructive excesses of free market zealots and casino capitalists. Greed was not only tolerated, but encouraged, and thatled to catastrophic imbalances in wealth, income and political power. Over time the greatAmerican ideals of fairness and justice for all, and the great American values of thrift and civicengagement, began to lose their hold on us. We embraced shopping. We behaved as if theacquisition of material goods, from sneakers and gold chains to vast seaside estates, was thegreatest good of all.The devastating wounds that have caused Americans such pain were self-inflicted.We fought wars that should never have been fought. We allowed giant banks and predatorycorporations to plunder the nation’s wealth and resources without regard for the damage done tothe economy, the environment or the people. We neglected the nation’s physical infrastructure tothe point where bridges were collapsing, water systems were failing, and the historic city of NewOrleans was submerged in a catastrophic flood that shocked not just the nation but the world.After so much neglect and so many bad policy decisions, we ended up with a governmentand an economy incapable of meeting the human needs of a complex and diverse nation of morethan 300 million people.The abiding premise of this book is that things do not have to be this way. There is noreason to sit still for an intolerable status quo. Democracy is still alive, if not particularly healthy,in America. Ordinary citizens can still roll up their sleeves and – with enough effort,commitment and willingness to sacrifice – reclaim their nation’s lost promise. The dream canstill be revived. Wounds can heal. A fresh start can be made. But only if citizens overcome theirreluctance to engage in collective civic action on an organized and sustained basis. In other words, only if ordinary citizens choose to intervene aggressively and courageously in their ownfate.My goal in this book is to get beyond the din of clueless politicians and nonstoptalking heads and show what really happened, how we got into such a deep fix and how we canget out of it. Like a print in an old-fashioned darkroom, a clearer portrait of America willemerge. We’ll see the great challenges facing the nation from the perspective of the ordinaryindividuals and families who are directly affected by them – a young Army captain who was badly wounded in Afghanistan, a woman who was driving across the Interstate-35 Bridge inMinneapolis when it collapsed into the Mississippi River, young people trying to cope withstaggering amounts of student debt in the worst economic environment since the GreatDepression. I’ve focused most intently on four specific areas: the employment crisis, which was badly underestimated and poorly understood; the need to rebuild and modernize the nation’sinfrastructure and the relationship of that vast project to employment; the critical task ofrevitalizing the public schools in a way that meets the profound educational imperatives of the21st century; and the essential obigation that we have as rational and civilized beings to stopfighting pointless and profoundly debilitating wars.There will be subtexts that weave their way through these interrelated themes,especially the poisonous effects of wealth and income inequality. And I’ll trace the relevanthistory that brought us to the present troubled moment. But there won’t be any suggestion thatthere are neat and tidy solutions tothe crises facing America. We don’t need another ten ortwelve-point plan. There are good ideas all over the place, even great ideas. But none of themhave a prayer of working if the citizenry is not somehow aroused to reclaim America from the powerful moneyed interests – the “malefactors of great wealth,” as Teddy Roosevelt so