Back to... the past

Everybody pulled his weight.

Gee our old LaSalle ran great.

Those were the days.

--from "Those Were The Days,"

lyric by Charles Stouse and Lee Adams

Writing in The New York Times this week, columnist David Leonhardt defined what is happening to the U.S. economy as "the new moderation."

And while I think he is 100% correct (read what he said here), what is happening now I think can much more directly be described as "Welcome back to the 1970s!"

Who out there remembers the "Me Decade"? Actually, in my mind the go-go '80s were much more of a "me-first" period but I digress. How I recall the '70s-- beyond the generally horrible taste exhibited in almost everything from clothing to furniture save for cars and popular (not disco!) music and television-- is that it was for better or worse a truly middle-class era.

Yes, 35 to 40 years ago there were plenty of persons living below the poverty line and as well as legions of the working poor-- although I dare say there are more today. But there sure were fewer truly well-off people tooling around in luxomobile SUVs buying every new piece of electronica or kitchen countertop option for that matter that comes their way. And there were far fewer wannabes willing to embark on whatever risky financial gynmnastics they calculate could vault them into appearing or at least feeling "rich" or "upper class."

Such cotton-candy whispy dreams had to end. But that doesn't mean we are heading into a nightmare.

If everyone from Wall Street to Main Street does their part to intelligently downsize-- especially the ridiculous and much too widely held belief that "consumers" can keep consuming at a dizzying pace forever and ever and ever-- maybe just maybe everyone in this country who already has far more than their basic needs being met can slow down and consider there is more to life than square footage, wide screens and third-row seating.

If that happens, well, then maybe we can start to re-direct our formidable national energy from selling each other stuff and "'services" we don't really need to being not only the world's economic powerhouse but also the home of the kind of genius that propelled mankind ahead with such inventions as universal electricifcation, affordable automobiles, the telegraph and telephone, radio, motion pictures and television not to mention the personal computer, the Internet and the cell phone.

This nation was challenged to greatness by John F. Kennedy a few years after we'd been humiliated by the appearance of a dinky satellite dubbed Sputnik. JFK's call to action was answered resoundingly. In much less than 10 years our nation went from a space-race has-been to putting, as Kennedy envisioned, a man on the moon.


" a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon--if we make this judgment affirmatively, it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there."

--John F. Kennedy, May 25, 1961

If we could do that back then with the crude technology of the day why can't we do more to excel and advance as a nation now?

I've no doubt that Fed rate cuts and tax refunds or stipends or whatever they're calling them this time around will stimulate the economy to some degree. You put money on the street, it gets spent. Doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out.

But what will stimulate our economy to where we really want it to be--way out front of every other economic power on earth-- will be if Americans can individually and collectively start working toward more than their comfort.

Nostalgia is a dangerous thing, tis true. It can cover up all sorts of unpleasant truths. But what I remember most fondly about the '70s was the sense of shared experience that existed in this country.

No, I don't want to give up any of the progress made on any front since those days. But I do yearn for that feeling of "we are all in this together and let's try to do something about it" that seems to have largely fled the good old U.S.A. in the last 30-odd years.

Maybe the next POTUS will be the kind of leader who will stir our nation once again to action if not greatness.

But the reality is it is up to all of us to make this a time worth recalling one day as the good old days