America's Urgent Challenge
Re "Are America's Best Days Behind Us?" [March 14]: Fareed Zakaria has put a finger on what may be the most formidable obstacle to America's enjoying a future as bright as its past the rooted belief that ours is an exceptional nation morally superior to all others, a light to the world. As a consequence, we are self-satisfied at a critical juncture in history when we should instead be engaged in clearheaded self-assessment.
Kirkwood, Mo., U.S.
Isn't it amazing that the top 10 most prosperous countries are those typically reviled by the right wing as "socialist" or "welfare" states? Many of them have publicly funded guaranteed health care, generous unemployment benefits and social-security systems, and social safety nets. The conservative right has maintained that this level of social welfare increased taxes and destroyed jobs, individual character and self-reliance. The proof may be in the pudding.
North Ridgeville, Ohio, U.S.
Zakaria summed it up with a single sentence lost amid a lot of statistics: "Americans simply don't care much." That's true: Americans have never worried about being No. 1; they were too busy building a country, perfecting democracy and trying to stay out of European wars (though eventually deciding them). America just became No. 1, and most of us don't care.
Huntington Beach, Calif., U.S.
The American Dream has turned into a depressing, demotivating nightmare. After World War II, the U.S. was widely admired, the inspirational ideal. That is no longer the case. Sure, it is possible to turn the tide, but the country needs a progressive majority to do so. That is not currently the prevailing political direction.
Antoine van de Walle,
Unlike in the past, when the U.S. rose to the challenge of the space race, the rise of Japan and other global pressures, today there is a sense of entitlement a sense that our problems will just take care of themselves because we are exceptional. Politicians enable this delusion by invoking exceptionalism while avoiding substantive solutions. I hope we become restless again now, when it counts most.
Manahawkin, N.J., U.S.
It is fascinating to see that as an immigrant Zakaria loves America to bits and offers solutions to the various ills the country faces today. One wonders if politicians merely ignore the truth for political gains.
I hope and pray that all American citizens, taxpayers and voters will hear Zakaria's patriotic wake-up call.
Cebu City, The Philippines
The cover stories by Zakaria and David Von Drehle ["Don't Bet Against the United States," March 14] should be required reading for Americans, including those holding political office, who choose to believe it is acceptable to exclude the major components of our deficit Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid from the debate. We should not allow Congress to dabble with cuts to discretionary spending and limit investment in the drivers of long-term economic growth: education, alternative energy, science and infrastructure.
Annandale, N.J., U.S.
Because many emerging economies are developing so rapidly, it seems as if America is falling from the top. When you stop and think about it carefully, however, many of today's innovations have been created by American geniuses: things that have revolutionized the way we live, such as iPods, iPhones and Facebook. It seems like every time another country is poised to take over the top spot, America steps it up a notch.
Von Drehle tells us that U.S. schools "aren't lagging across the board. Where they struggle is in educating poor immigrant and minority students." That's rather like noting that if our unemployment rate is only about 10%, it follows that some 90% of our workforce is indeed employed, so what's all the fuss about?
Myrtle Beach, S.C., U.S.
As I was reading Von Drehle's story, I was reminded of a statement attributed to H.L. Mencken about presidential aspirants with a talent for "swathing the bitter facts of life in bandages of soft illusion."
Leon W. Zelby,
Norman, Okla., U.S.
America has always been populated by optimists, a land of hope and glory. However, Americans have to be careful not to turn optimism into delusion. Empires come and go. Today's decline does not mean that America will not continue to play a vital role in global affairs. It is just that other players want to claim their fair share. America can also reinvent itself. To do that it has to sideline the 20th century forces responsible for the current situation.
Zakaria writes, "Rather than resting on our laurels, we have feared getting fat and lazy." But that is precisely what has happened, as seen both from afar and close-up: Americans have become quite literally fat, lazy and complacent. Add to that the appalling ignorance of a large part of the population about the rest of the world, and you have a country that used to be No. 1 in many things but, as Zakaria shows, has slipped disastrously. Worst of all, a huge portion of the population doesn't seem to know or even care.
Gracemary "Jef" Westing,
You can see how noncitizens perceive us as No. 1 by the long lines outside American consulates, as people wait for visas to the U.S. I'll worry about the U.S.'s decline when I see that lines at the Brazilian, Russian, Indian or Chinese consulates are longer than those at the U.S. consulates.
Lynchburg, Va., U.S.
Oil's Sticker Shock
Re Rana Foroohar's "Fear and Loathing in the Oil Markets" [March 14]: May the price of oil double and triple. Then we might begin to get serious about our addiction to the stuff. Oil usage is a prime cause of climate change, yet there is a mass of untapped alternative energy in wind, wave and solar power energy that doesn't pollute or bring about destructive global warming. Getting away from oil means we won't need to prostrate ourselves before nasty dictators or destroy the environment to get at highly polluting tar sands. If price is the only way to drive the world to common sense, then let's welcome a hike.
Derek Smith, London
Why Not Warren?
Re Joe Klein's "Who's Afraid of Reforming Wall Street?" [March 14]: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, with Elizabeth Warren as its director, is in the best interest of all of us. I don't understand President Obama's hesitation to appoint Warren to this post. She is qualified, desires the position, is passionate about promoting what is just and will provide him the opportunity to demonstrate his commitment to legal and ethical business practices. He could not wish for a better nominee. He and she are on the defensible side of this issue, and they should welcome a confirmation battle.
Klein's article raises an issue that is at the heart of the global financial crisis and should be addressed: Why haven't the ratings agencies, Moody's and Standard & Poor's, been called to account? Their ratings of investment quality are relied on by members of the investment and business community, large and small. Whether the agencies got it wrong or deliberately misled by awarding collateralized debt obligations a triple-A rating needs to be investigated. Bring on Warren, I say.
To blame greed for the financial crisis is like blaming gravity for plane crashes. Risk drives profit. A risk-free investment is a low-return one. I believe in antitrust laws and I believe in a level of regulation. However, to kid people that we can protect them and the economy from their own poor investment decisions is to mislead them.
Harris Park, Australia
If Warren is a credible threat to the banks' power, her appointment will be fought vigorously every step of the way. So long as politicians remain in thrall to financial institutions and powerful lobby groups, Wall Street will never be reformed. British politicians also possess neither the inclination nor courage to legislate against the world's financial terrorists. Cupidity seems to be increasingly prevalent as a form of governance.
Klein should have added Congress and President Clinton to the list of unindicted co-conspirators for revising the Community Reinvestment Act in 1995, encouraging banks to make these loans.
Crystal Lake, Ill., U.S.
If America should fail, the cause will be threefold: greed, cowardice and laziness. The greed of Wall Street bankers, pharmaceutical and health-insurance companies, petrochemical interests, lobbyists and politicians. The cowardice of leaders who make decisions premised on vested interests and not the interests of the general public. The laziness of those same people in failing to innovate and problem solve and have the vision to change and adapt. The vision outlined by Obama in his State of the Union address deserves realization, but I fear that he stands alone and unsupported.
I was extremely disappointed that you dedicated 10 Questions to Mike Tyson [March 14]. This is a man known largely for his crimes, including rape, for which he did jail time.
Lebanon, Conn., U.S.