on October 4, 2011
As I was reading this book, I kept thinking 'Just the fact that they've been able to stand apart from the national tendencies (which include a) myopia, b) wrapping everything in the flag and c) the contradiction of self-absorption and a dearth of self-examination) is enough to make me applaud.'
When I had a chance to look at the reviews on Amazon, I had to shake my head at the fact that almost all of the 'negative' responses fell within the descriptions of 'what's holding America back'.
Being a Canadian, I've always been very aware of the US. You can't help but have opinions about this 'elephant next door', especially as it's long been the case that Canadians begin the process of defining their national identity by declaring 'We're not Americans'. So having grown up next to it, having lived there and having lived in the UK, I'm chock-full of opinions and observations about the country.
And I have to say that I could find little 'wrong' in the authors' take on things, how they deconstruct the obvious and what they suggest as the pathways to solutions. (Although I was struck by two things: one, that the book seems like a 'Part One' of at least a two-part series, and secondly, that they put such emphasis at the end on a third-party Presidential candidate.)
I came away feeling I understood more about the situation (especially the political, focusing on the history of the two main parties), but I also came away feeling pretty sad. Witnessing failed potential has this effect on me. Especially when it's clear the person, the company or the country has everything it needs to succeed...but it's mired in its own sh&t.
I'm glad I read this book.
I think it should be the subject of a cross-nation town hall tour, where re-learning the art of discourse might lead to things that need to be discussed actually be discussed, and the underlying truths of how the country got to where it is and what's required to move through it all towards a more befitting destiny could be wrestled with properly.
Personal rating: 9/10
on October 29, 2011
Friedman and Mandelbaum paint a gloomy picture for the future of America. Their analysis of the American malaise is detailed, insightful and well crafted. The section on political polarization and the resulting gridlock is excellent; America is dominated by the extremists, conservative and liberal. The section on education is disturbing but much too detailed. Their solution is naive and simplistic in the extreme. I believe Washington will address these fundamental issues only when the pain experienced by the moderate majority reaches levels that provokes a major change in politics. We are not there yet.