As best I could, I watched the president’s State of the Union address from a non-ideological viewpoint, detaching my personal views from my opinion about his delivery. Of course I couldn’t help but instinctively decipher his rhetorical code
Like most Americans, I was taught to admire certain U.S. presidents. Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, the Roosevelt cousins and Kennedy were elevated in our textbooks and by my teachers. It is interesting to note who we focused on and who we skipped over. (Hey, what about John Adams? Calvin Coolidge anyone?)
At the Democratic National Convention, former President Bill Clinton said that "nobody could have fixed the economy in four years." President Obama routinely doubles down on this theme, using the phrase "four years ago" to defend his policies and the current economic situation. Both Clinton and Obama frame their argument for a second Obama term by reminding voters how bad things were in 2008.
But are they correct? Was the problem unfixable in four years? Was the hole just too big, regardless of the policies they chose? The pundits will continue to debate this point for years to come, but recent history might be the most instructive. Compare what Obama inherited in 2008 to what President Ronald Reagan inherited in 1980, and let's consider the results.
In a famous sequence in Joseph Heller's satirical war novel "Catch-22," the protagonist—bombardier Yossarian—makes an unauthorized call during an aerial bombing raid to take out a bridge by going in for a second run at the target. He scores a hit, destroying the bridge, but his decision inadvertently results in the death of a flight crew in another plane.
His superiors, embarrassed by the loss, try to figure out how to save face. Yossarian suggests they give him a medal. "You know, that might be the answer—to act boastfully about something we ought to be ashamed of," Col. Korn responds. "That's a trick that never seems to fail."
The problem outlined by Mitch Pearlstein is soundly argued—family breakdown has been hastened by higher rates of non-marital birth, divorce, and cohabitation, leading to less educational and economic opportunity for affected children and adults.
This new American Experiment symposium grows out of a book of mine published just about a year ago, From Family Collapse to America’s Decline: The Educational, Economic, and Social Costs of Family Fragmentation, which examined many of the problems and shortcomings resulting from very high rates of nonmarital births, very high rates of divorce, and routinely short-lived cohabiting relationships. One of the book’s central themes is how such family churning—more specifically, the extent to which it hurts great numbers of children—is leading, and can only lead, to stunted mobility and deeper class divisions in a nation that has never viewed itself in such splintered ways.
Army Captain Pete Hegseth, an American Experiment Senior Fellow, recently wrote the following update while in Kabul, Afghanistan and then Manas, Kyrgyzstan on his eventual way back to Minnesota.
Welcome home, soldier and great thanks for your brave service and that of your family.
Fall has come to Afghanistan. Back home in Minnesota, it’s my favorite season; ushering in falling leaves, weekend football, warm sweatshirts, and the forthcoming crisp winter air. The weather is changing here as well, with chilly nights, frequent rain, and snow on distant mountaintops. It feels foreign to experience “fall” in a warzone—it just doesn’t compute. My previous two deployments were perpetual summers, with yearlong weather patterns cycling between hot, hotter, and hottest. Fall feels like home, yet it has arrived in Afghanistan—with winter close behind. I’m certainly glad to be rid of the heat; it just takes a while to associate the cold with camouflage.