The Gift of Insecurity

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Photograph by Peter Hapak for TIME

One of the things that make America great is that we are eternally questioning our own greatness. Insecurity is the flip side of confidence--and our habitual self-doubt wards off too much complacency. If there's a theme that unites Fareed Zakaria's piece on American decline, David Von Drehle's ode to American resilience and Joe Klein's column on the need for economic reform, it's the idea that hard choices are at the root of exceptionalism. We've certainly made them in the past, but from the financial sector to the national debt to education to entitlements, we're avoiding them today. The GOP's cuts in nondefense discretionary spending--which makes up a measly 17% of the budget--do not get anywhere near the real problem, which is Medicare, Medicaid and the defense budget. What's more, it's not either/or--that is, cuts or raising revenue; it's both. With a debt this large, it's not about ideology but mathematics. And while we're cutting in some places, if we're not also investing in education, technology and research, we guarantee an end to American exceptionalism. And no one wants that.

This week also marks the debut of a regular column on politics by Mike Murphy, a longtime Republican consultant. I've covered presidential politics for many years, and I've always thought Mike was among the sharpest, most insightful (and funniest) politicos out on the trail. My prejudice is that practitioners know how things really work in a way that folks outside the room never do. If you want to know what I'm talking about, read his first column, on what's actually at stake in Wisconsin.

Richard Stengel, MANAGING EDITOR