There is a growing perception, from where I sit in my Blog-O-Lounger, that America's reputation in the world has eroded over the last few decades. There is a perception even here that we are not the country we were... when The Greatest Generation was at the helm.
I don't know how much of this is normal nostalgia and idealizing of the past, but if that's the problem, then the Chinese and the rest of the world are apparently nostalgic for our past, too. There is really speculation - unthinkable twenty years ago - that if we do not "take steps" the U.S. might be flirting with the possibility of default down the road. Oh, we won't be in any such pickle for a while, yet, but there are rumblings. Bad thoughts are crossing people's minds.
I submit that our neighbors' new and disturbing lack of confidence in our ability to pay our long-term debts must be seen as a judgment, not of our national politics, but of our national character. Our national handshake, if you will, has gone from that of, say, an aviation mechanic (calloused but clever) to that of a coffee barrista (effete and... well, that's about it, actually).
What is necessary to put the U.S. back on a solid footing is not this or that political program, or tax plan, or amendment, but a kind of Renaissance of national character. I believe if you talk to the people in the street, this crisis of national character will be pretty readily acknowledged, but don't expect anyone in Washington to talk about it. The State of the Union is always "strong".
This is one aspect - the chief aspect, I might argue - of the office of President that has been woefully neglected of late... that of National Cheerleader. The last president who understood it was Ronald Reagan. The main job of the POTUS is to encourage and challenge and inspire... (note: lecturing, chiding and condescending to are not the same thing).
We need a renaissance of the simple virtues - American Virtues - that our grandparents practiced and that earned such respect for our country in the first place; hard work, thrift, honesty, inventiveness, responsibility... Oh, hell... to save time I'll just print the Boy Scout Oath;
A Scout Is:
It's not as if all this some kind of mystery. Everyone admires these things, and yet... we have been through a very long period of time wherein reciting the elements of the oath above out loud, in public, would have produced mainly embarrassment, contempt and concealed (maybe) giggles. We're so damnably jaded about virtue when it's the only path to achieving all the things the politicians wring their hands about... a strong economy, our allies' respect and our enemies' fear.
Our grandparents' generation may be represented by their iconic superhero, the ever-virtuous Superman, who's power was other-worldly. In our day, it's Batman... in a moral sense, barely distinguishable from the bad guys, and who's power is very worldly, derived from his wealth and a baffling array of high-tech gadgets.
A while ago, our current President asserted "Our prosperity is the foundation of our power.". But our national virtues have (until recently) been the foundation of our prosperity. The Federal Reserve can tinker all they want with interest rates and the money supply, we can cut taxes or raise them, spend more on education or less, cut any kind of deals we like with foreign governments... if we don't practice the American virtues, we will find ourselves circling the drain, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the PRC and the House of Saud.