Obama needs to convince Americans that we’re not in decline

The current declinist sentiment arises from a widespread sense that in the first decade of the new millennium, our country squandered its international advantages, degraded its power with a long and unnecessary engagement in Iraq, wrecked the federal government’s finances – and then saw its economy devastated by the worst financial crisis in 80 years. All this happened as China especially but also India began to challenge American preeminence. Americans feel something is badly wrong, and they are fully justified in their alarm.

Obama was elected for many reasons in 2008, but the country’s underlying desire to reverse this sense of decline was central to his victory. Consider the emphasis in his posters on “Hope” and his “Change We Can Believe In” slogan. Whether by design or luck, the words “hope” and “believe” were precise responses to a spiritual crisis that the fears of lost supremacy engendered and explain the almost religious overtones of the Obama crusade…

He needs his own narrative about American exceptionalism. It would not pretend that the United States can occupy exactly the same position it enjoyed before China’s rise. But his vision would insist that it is not our country’s fate to be another of history’s global powers that looked on helplessly as its influence and living standards declined.