Today the Dow Jones Industrial average broke 10,000. Banks are reporting healthy profits. As of yesterday, five committees in Congress have reported out landmark health care reform legislation. And last week, the President of the United States won the Nobel Peace Prize! How are people reacting to all this good news? On the right, the only recent news that many conservatives seemed to have cheered was the news that Chicago lost its bid to host the 2016 Olympics. Even though they were quick to blame Obama for the sagging stock market after his election and for the first couple of months after his inauguration, you don't hear many business reporters or Republican politicians giving the president credit for solid signs of recovery. And on the left, you see the usual hand-wringing about Wall Street making too much money, or about the health care legislation containing too many compromises to win conservative votes.
What is wrong with us? Are we so awash in negative feelings that we can't simply feel a bit cheered up by good news? Last night I heard an interview with Michael Chabon in which he was waxing nostalgic about the 1970's, of all times. I don't remember the 1970's as such a great time: I was a college student in New York City when the economy was stagnant, the city was going broke, crime was rampant, the subways were covered with grafitti, and garbage was piled high in the streets. People were still fighting the political battles begun in the 1960's, and the president was being impeached. Maybe since Michael Chabon was only a teenager during those years while I was in my 20's, he has a more romanticized view. But he still reminded me that there was a feeling, even during those years of pretty dismal economic times, of freedom and possibility and experimentation. As Chabon described it, this was a time when a guy could wear platform shoes, eye make-up and a ridiculous haircut, and still expect to get laid. From my experience, I would not say that the 1970's was quite that tolerant or free-spirited, but that is still a good description of the idea of the 1970's. In more recent times, even when things are going well economically, there seems to be much more of a tendency to get snarky when anyone steps out of line. We feel less free, and perhaps that is why we are so quick to criticize. Maybe we ought to chill out, relax, be thankful that our economy seems to have pulled back from the brink, and try to move forward with a bit of hope.