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Global Optimism, American Pessimism

At Real Clear Politics, Michael Barone dissects the latest Pew Global Attitudes survey. There is some specific good news about attitudes in Muslim countries:

[T]he Pew Global survey showed sharply reduced numbers of Muslims saying that suicide bombings are often or sometimes justified as compared with 2002. That’s still the view of 70 percent in the Palestinian territories. But that percentage has declined from 74 percent to 34 percent in Lebanon, from 43 percent to 23 percent in Jordan, and from 33 percent to 9 percent in Pakistan.

More broadly, what is striking is how much optimism is reflected in the survey, world-wide. Global economic growth has sparked a high level of confidence in the future, even in Africa. The United States, however, is an exception:

Most strikingly, only 25 percent of Americans are positive about the direction of the nation, down from 41 percent in 2002. In only a handful of the 47 nations are there declines of similar magnitude — Uganda, the Czech Republic, France, Canada and Italy. ***
[B]y a two-to-one margin Americans say their children will be worse off than we are. There’s a similar response in Canada, Britain and Brazil. The even more negative verdicts in Western Europe and Japan can be explained as a cool assessment of the combination of low birthrates and overgenerous welfare states.
But what basis do Americans have to suppose that, for the first time in history, a younger generation will be worse off than their parents? Perhaps it’s just a feeling that things cannot possibly get any better. In any case, we seem to be in a pronounced national funk.

Barone concludes by suggesting that Americans should snap out of it. Good advice; but I think what we are seeing is partly faux pessimism. As Barone notes:

It’s partly a partisan response: Almost all Democrats are negative about the nation’s future.

I think that many Americans are attuned to the idea of using the opportunity presented by a phone call from a pollster to make a political point. I seriously doubt that nearly all Democrats really believe the nation is more or less doomed to decline; if a Democratic President is elected next November, the country’s prospects will brighten considerably in their eyes. There is a reason why the theme song of winning campaigns has traditionally been, “Happy Days Are Here Again.”
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