A Strong Economy, A Weak Stomach

“This is far and away the strongest global economy I’ve seen in my business lifetime,” Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson recently said to Fortune magazine.

People investing in the stock market would seem to agree. It broke another record yesterday, and barring unforeseen circumstances, will break the 14,000 barrier by the end of the summer.

While America hums along, the rest of the world is going like gangbusters. Most of the big growth is happening overseas, in places like China, India, Chile and even in some African countries. But we are growing too, as is Europe. A rare time when the world is growing together.

That is why we can fight a very expensive war (close to $600 billion over five years) and have a deficit that is still at a historically low percentage.

Nobody in America believes this set of facts, despite a 4.5 percent unemployment rate, historically low interest rates, relatively low inflation, and steady growth.

Maybe we need a national psychologist to talk us off the bridge before we jump.

By almost every statistic, we are doing well as a nation.

Yet approval ratings for our political leaders — both the White House and the Congress — are in the toilet. Corporate leaders are held in even lower regard.

Part of it, I think, is that we are tired of the war. We are tired of people wanting to kill us. We are tired of Osama Bin Laden and his crazy rants. We are tired of threats of nuclear terrorism. We won’t feel good again until we can feel secure against these Islamic radical idiots.

Part of it is the nature of cable television. I was watching one cable network the other day and they were following a story of a woman who was being pursued by police, suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol. She wasn’t even famous. Every story seems blown way out of proportion.

By almost every measure, children are safer now than they have ever been. But you wouldn’t know it. Parents are terrified to let their kids out of their sight, because what they see on television.

And part of it is fear of the future. Technology is moving so fast that it is just about impossible to keep up. The more we try, the more exhausted we become. We take our BlackBerrys on vacation. What kind of jerk would take his BlackBerry on vacation? Well, we all do it. We don’t want to miss anything.

What will the future look like in 20 years, according to the so-called experts? Social Security is going to go bust. Medicare is going to bust the federal government. Global warming will either bake us or drown us. College is going to cost parents a million dollars a year. Either Mexicans or Muslims will make up a majority of the nation. We will all be forced to learn Mandarin Chinese. We will be a nation of obese alcoholics. And the fears go on and on.

It would be nice if our next president can give us all some Maalox and convince us that everything is going to be all right. After the tumultuous years of the Truman administration, we got a president who played golf and eased the collective nerves of a spastic nation. Where is Ike now that we need him?