This is not, I repeat not, a partisan argument. My own political leanings are well-known, but the refusal of Americans to look seriously at the nation’s situation — and its prospects — is an equal-opportunity scourge. Republicans got the back of the electorate’s hand in 2006 and 2008; Democrats will feel the sting this November. By 2012, it will probably be the GOP’s turn to get slapped around again.

The nation demands the impossible: quick, painless solutions to long-term, structural problems. While they’re running for office, politicians of both parties encourage this kind of magical thinking. When they get into office, they’re forced to try to explain that things aren’t quite so simple — that restructuring our economy, renewing the nation’s increasingly rickety infrastructure, reforming an unsustainable system of entitlements, redefining America’s position in the world and all the other massive challenges that face the country are going to require years of effort. But the American people don’t want to hear any of this. They want somebody to make it all better. Now.