The stumbling pattern of the aging athlete is reminiscent of the vacillation and weakness of today’s American leadership. The secret of success for those nations that are in their prime is that they do a few tasks confidently and well. They run a strong military to keep peace at home and to help stabilize matters abroad. They worry about the maintenance of a simple tax system with low rates, a system intended to create a certain and friendly environment that maximizes returns to capital and labor. They know the importance of the security of contractual transactions and the dangers that come from erratic efforts to jump-start an economy. They praise their inventors, authors, and innovators. They treat excellence as an imperative. They take care of their unfortunates, but do not easily accept excuses for poor performance.

Remaining true to these guiding principles pays large social dividends. It helps shrink the size of government, and it reduces the level of political intrigue that saps the vitality of a nation with one gimmick after another. Like a Derek Jeter in his prime, this great nation masters the essentials of the game and leaves the scraps to others. It embodies a quiet efficiency that spurs individual achievement and wealth creation, which in turn sets the stage for a new round of innovation and improvement.

But that is not the way matters have worked out in the last several years; indecision and economic malaise have been our lot. Like today’s Derek Jeter, the United States constantly fiddles with its swing. Bad ideas in good times have become good ideas for bad times. We are told that we must constantly have stimulus programs to “jump start” the economy so that it can return to its productive ways. But what we get are “cash for clunkers,” short-term subsidies to new home buyers, extended unemployment benefits, and an endless set of home loan forgiveness and loan extension programs that never quite allow underwater homeowners to return to dry land.