Wed, Jun 25, 2008 - Page 9 News List

US faces a new dilemma: pessimism about nearly everything

A battered US public seems discouraged by the onslaught of bad news, and recent polls indicate that only 17 percent think the US is moving in the right direction

By Alan Fram and Eileen Putnam  /  AP , WASHINGTON

Is everything spinning out of control?

Midwestern levees are bursting. Polar bears are adrift. Gas prices are skyrocketing. Home values are abysmal. Air fares, college tuition and health care border on unaffordable. Wars without end rage in Iraq, Afghanistan and against terrorism.

The can-do, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” approach embedded in the US psyche is under assault. Eroding it is a dour powerlessness that’s chipping away at the US’ sturdy conviction that destiny can be commanded with sheer courage and perseverance.

The sense of helplessness is even reflected in this year’s presidential election, as each contender offers a sense of order — and hope.

Republican candidate Senator John McCain promises an experienced hand in a frightening time. Democratic candidate Senator Barack Obama promises bright and shiny change — and his swollen crowds believe his exhortation: “Yes, we can.”

Even so, a battered US public seems discouraged by the onslaught of dispiriting things. A new Associated Press-Ipsos poll says a barrel-scraping 17 percent believe the country is moving in the right direction, the lowest reading since the survey began in 2003.

A new ABC News-Washington Post survey put that figure at 14 percent, tying a record low in more than three decades of taking soundings on the national mood.

“It is pretty scary,” said Charles Truxal, 64, a retired corporate manager in Rochester, Minnesota. “People are thinking things are going to get better, and they haven’t been. And then you go hide in your basement because tornadoes are coming through. If you think about things, you have very little power to make it change.”

Abroad, the recent natural disasters dwarf anything afflicting the US: more than 69,000 people dead in the China earthquake, 78,000 dead and 56,000 missing from cyclone that hit Myanmar.

The US need do no more than check the weather, look in their wallets or turn on the news for their daily reality check on a world gone haywire.

Floods engulf Midwestern river towns, washing away livelihoods and communities. Is it global warming, the gradual degradation of an entire planet’s weather that man seems powerless to stop, or just a freakish late-spring deluge?

It hardly matters to those in the path. Just ask the people of New Orleans who survived the horrific Hurricane Katrina and now live in a major US city where 1,000 days later, entire neighborhoods remain abandoned, a national embarrassment that evokes disbelief from visitors.

Food is becoming scarcer and more expensive on a worldwide scale, because of increased consumption in growing countries like China and India and rising fuel costs. That can-do solution to energy needs — turning corn into fuel — is sapping fields of plenty once devoted to crops that people need to eat. Shortages have sparked riots in countries dotting the globe. In the US, rice prices tripled and some stores rationed the staple.

Residents of the US capital and its suburbs repeatedly lose power for extended periods as mere thunderstorms — not earthquakes or terrorist bombings — rumble through. In California, leaders warn people to use less water in the unrelenting drought.

Want to get away from it all? The weak US dollar makes travel abroad forbiddingly expensive. To add insult to injury, some airlines now charge to check luggage.

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