On the Subject of Sacrifice

From the perspective of New American Dream, a particular moment stood out in Tuesday's second presidential debate.  (Of course, several moments may have stood out for viewers, but for present purposes I am looking solely through the lens of New Dream's mission and message.)

One of the questions for the candidates came from a 78-year-old Chicago woman, who asked:

"Since World War II, we have never been asked to sacrifice anything to help our country, except the blood of our heroic men and women. As president, what sacrifices will you ask every American to make to help restore the American dream and to get out of the economic morass that we're now in?"

It's interesting both as a question and as a comment from someone who lived through the Great Depression (the, um, previous one).  In recent years, politicians have been increasingly unwilling to speak in terms of sacrifice when it comes to the American consumer.  In the lead up to the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, President George H. W. Bush famously said that the "American way of life is not negotiable"… meaning that our consumption patterns were not up for discussion--even for the good of the planet.

A prior entry in our Living Green Below Your Means blog  talked about Finding Our Victory Gardens. It made reference to the enormous nationwide effort to pull together and make real sacrifices on a personal level during World War II, and posed the question of how we tap our American ingenuity to solve modern social and environmental problems.

Again, from New Dream’s perspective, a portion of Senator Obama’s answer was interesting.  He said:

"You know, a lot of you remember the tragedy of 9/11 and where you were on that day and, you know, how all of the country was ready to come together and make enormous changes to make us not only safer, but to make us a better country and a more unified country.

And President Bush did some smart things at the outset, but one of the opportunities that was missed was, when he spoke to the American people, he said, ‘Go out and shop.’

That wasn't the kind of call to service that I think the American people were looking for."

Indeed not.

Of course, you can read that debate answer as just one candidate taking a shot at the current president who represents the opposing party.  But from our perspective, that particular comment rings true.  As I stated in a previous post on Finding What Matters In Times of Crisis

"Our economy in recent decades has been propped up to an alarming degree by profligate consumer spending and wasting of resources. Even before the crisis, it was obvious that the traditional American Dream of comfort and security had been displaced by a “more is better” focus that promotes not quality of life, but rather the unbridled production and consumption of throwaway goods.

The fact is, for years we’ve been on a work and spend treadmill, a government-sanctioned effort to turn the economy into a perpetual motion machine. Growth (and greed) have trumped all other concerns.  We've been wearing ourselves out, spinning our wheels and spending hard-earned dollars on consumer items that don’t leave us fulfilled or, apparently, all that economically secure."

As a country, we must stop thinking that shopping is the answer to our economic woes.  We were glad to see that issue addressed… however briefly, in the presidential debate.

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