Friday, March 14, 2003

What malaise?

Can you put that malaise on my sandwich?

I knew it was coming. Tuesday morning, CNN ran a piece on “the national malaise” that has affected our nation. The reporter interviewed typical people on the street — presumably in New York City — about the “funk” that seems to hang over our country.

The causes are many:• The stock market• The (latest) space shuttle disaster• Looming war in Iraq• Possible war in North Korea• War between the Israelis and Palestinians.

I turned off the TV after that piece aired, reminded of the line from the movie “Stalag 17”: “Static! The radio’s static, the war is static and we’re static!” That line was uttered by a World War II prisoner of war in the movie that starred William Holden and featured a stable of character actors, including Peter Graves.

We are reminded of President Jimmy Carter’s “malaise” speech in the last years of his one-term presidency. A short time before (or later) he appeared on TV dressed in a Mister Rogers-type sweater and told us to turn back our thermostats to save energy.

I admit Jimmy Carter is not one of my heroes. He is a good man, but so was my Dad and he wouldn’t have made a great president, either. I think my funk in those days was having to pay outrageous heating bills while being lectured by the president on being in a funk. I think inflation was running around 22 percent at the same time.

You know what? At age 50 I’ve decided I am neither an optimist nor pessimist. I am a realist. I think being a journalist has made me one. I like to say that the optimist says the glass is half full, the pessimist says the glass is half empty. But the journalist asks, “What, exactly, is in that glass?”

I think talk of a national malaise at this time is folly. We are Americans! We live in the greatest nation in the world! If we are wealthy (compared to the rest of the world), it is because our God and our forefathers blessed us with a great land and a Constitution that has withstood the test of time. Are we concerned? Sure we are. We are not idiots. We know there are challenges ahead.

I get the idea many think our present decline in the stock market is a bad thing. Yet, not many months ago we were told stock prices were overvalued — that stocks were selling for many more times than was justified by the value of the companies they represent. So, the stock market is going through an adjustment.

Many seem to think it is a bad thing that consumer spending is down. Yet, not many months ago we were told we needed to pay off our credit cards and be more responsible. So, people seem to be doing that.

Save your malaise — make that mayonnaise — for your sandwich. This country is just fine.