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Is America on the rise or on the decline? - Bob Paslay

Pardon me while I play Socrates. By that I mean, I am wondering something but I truly don't know the answer. So I will be questioning and out of that questioning may come some enlightenment. This is sincere. I know if any of you have ever been to a seminar in which the moderator is known as the "facilitator" you will look at me askance.

In those seminars, the moderator asks a question like what is the one reason people buy our widgets. You answer: Because they are cheaper. The facilitator says, "Well that's a good answer. Anyone else?" This means I don't care what you think. There is only one answer I am seeking and you trained monkeys didn't get it right. "Anyone else?" Someone else answers: "We make widgets that are unrivaled in the world." The facilitator claps his or her hands together: "Exactly." That is fake Socrates. Mine is the real thing.

So this is the question I am pondering: Is America an ascending country or a descending country? Are we the young just barely entering middle -age rising star or are we the tired old lady, still a dame but clearly with the best years behind?

You have to start with premise that we are talking in geology terms and not in clock terms. Water took millions of years to wear valleys through the mountains. Rome (rome, not georgia) fell over a long period. The Titanic, on the other hand, hit a chunk of ice, ripped a gash along its side and sank.

Let me start with television. America is 229 years old and I have lived for 57 of those years, about a fourth. I barely missed by three years the end of World War II, was a crying baby when Harry Truman surprised the Chicago Tribune and a lot of the nation by winning re-election. I can only remember a few years of my life in which there was not television.

Growing up we had Mary Martin's live "Peter Pan" and other live productions, we had variety shows and comedies that didn't depend on sex as the only means of humor. We had the sci-fi genus Rod Serling and the fascinating Alfred Hitchcock. Even the game shows were intellectually based. For those of us without performing arts centers, culture was brought into our livingrooms. The great journalist Edward R. Murrow made us understand the plight of migrant workers and brought famous people into our homes. Even someone years later like William F. Buckley asked questions and waited for an answer. It was a give and take and we all came away better for having watched.

Now television in my opinion is one great wasteland. You still have pockets of intelligent life for those of us brought up on that, like the History Channel, the Arts & Entertainment Channel. But the regular television is slop.

So if you judge America by its television, we are driving fast downhill without brakes. But if you judge it by the intelligent channels and even things like Public Radio we are getting better, we are rising.

Look at politics. If George Bush and John Kerry are the best we have to offer in a land of so many millions then we are certainly descending. The losers of the past, Aaron Burr, Stephen Douglas, Adlai Stevenson, Thomas Dewey, Teddy Roosevelt as a Bull Moose candidate, are all mountains higher than our winners of today.

In the economy, our dollar stinks compared to the world's currency. We buy more than we sell to other countries. We import too much oil. The recent pact between China and India can do nothing but move those emerging economies along and sink us even deeply. Junk like crack and coke and meth and heroin are ruining a whole generation of people who could be productive and contribute rather than drain on our economy.

At this point I am leaning towards descending.

But let me quickly say I think America is at a crossroads. We led in science, we led in medicine, we led in space, we led in music and fashion, and now we just have to come up with some new ideas.

If we pioneer solar energy so it is really usable. If we move ahead with colonizing the moon or Mars. If we continue exploring the oceans. If we push forward with tolerance. If we do all those things and more then America will hold center stage for decades, maybe centuries, to come. The question is whether we are willing to dream the dreams or whether we would rather sit on the couch and watch adults eat bugs on television for what passes as entertainment.

Bob Paslay is assistant managing editor of the News Daily and Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753 Ext. 257 or at bpaslay@news-daily.com .