A tipping point in America's mood
There is a new awareness of the challenges we face.
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The hardy citizens of Maine will survive all this, of course, as will other Americans who, through the history of their nation, have traditionally rallied in the face of even temporary adversity. But the changing mood does suggest a recognition that Americans will need to adapt to new conditions that certainly seem destined at home, and probably abroad.Skip to next paragraph
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Clearly this has significant implications for the two main presidential contenders, John McCain and Barack Obama. Both promise change, but with divergent agendas, on differing schedules, and with different levels of experience.
At home, there must be sharply less reliance on imported oil, a need that has been evident for decades but has not been treated as a challenge of urgency by presidents or Congresses either Republican or Democratic.
Problems of similar gravity confront the future of Social Security and Medicare. Faced with governmental neglect, wealthy private businessmen such as T. Boone Pickens and Peter G. Peterson are promising millions of personal dollars in campaigns to direct attention to such problems. Mr. Pickens is promoting wind power. Mr. Peterson is tackling financing for Social Security and Medicare. Meanwhile, Melinda and Bill Gates are directing some of their billions to healthcare at home and abroad.
In an era of globalization, US domestic problems are inextricably interwoven with international implications and consequences. Global warming, energy supply, free trade, currency management, the campaign to bring stability to the Islamic world and contain terrorism, along with myriad other challenges, all require international negotiation and solution. Thus Americans seem increasingly comfortable with the six-nation effort to dismantle North Korea's nuclear-weapons program and multilateral diplomacy to try to block Iran's nuclear ambitions.
The US remains the world's most formidable economic and military power. But it must increasingly recognize the newly gathering influence of India, China, and Brazil. Individual Americans seem sturdily aware this summer of adjustments they must make due to changing times.
In a perverse kind of way, soaring gas prices have become the catalyst for focus on the No. 1 issue confronting a new president and Congress: What will be the fuel and from whence will it come, that will run the great American engine in the 21st century and beyond?