Commentary: Stimulus package worth a try

SAN DIEGO -- Worried that Americans are on the brink of a recession -- or perhaps already in the middle of one -- the Bush administration and the House of Representatives have reached tentative agreement on an economic stimulus package.

SAN DIEGO -- Worried that Americans are on the brink of a recession -- or perhaps already in the middle of one -- the Bush administration and the House of Representatives have reached tentative agreement on an economic stimulus package.

Glad to hear it. A stimulus may not work exactly as expected, but it's worth a try. Americans are overtaxed as it is, and anything that gets more of their tax dollars back into their hands is a good thing. And if they spend what they get, it'll be good for the economy.

There's just one thing. You hear about how voters are angry and holding Congress' feet to the fire until they get some sort of relief. But let's not get so caught up in asking what government can do for us that we forget what we can do for ourselves.

The No. 1 economic threat facing the United States today isn't globalization, stagnant wages, unfair trade policy or illegal immigration. And it certainly isn't what one cable TV demagogue glibly calls a "war on the middle class" by big media, big corporations and big special interests.

Rather, it's the sense of entitlement that many Americans take with them into the workplace and the eagerness with which they shift the blame when things don't go according to plan.


The key is to never to take responsibility for the personal decisions you've made. Eventually, some opportunistic politician will come along and confirm what you've always suspected -- that you are at the mercy of forces beyond your control.

It wasn't always this way. Fifty years ago, Americans were a heartier bunch. They'd grown up in the Depression and defeated Nazi Germany and the other Axis powers during World War II, and they found honor in doing any kind of work. If they didn't earn enough money doing it, they took on another job, or another one after that. Most of all, they took pride in the idea that -- in this country -- our destiny is in our own hands.

Today, according to a survey of workers in their 20s and 30s, young Americans expect their jobs to provide not only a nice salary but also plenty of vacation time to enjoy it. And from research done by Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, we know that many members of "Generation Me" walk into job interviews brimming with self-esteem and expecting to be put on a path to a corporate vice presidency.

Is that all? And what if they don't get everything that they think they're entitled to?

That's when the blame comes in. Americans like to blame illegal immigrants for keeping wages low, or workers from India or China for taking high-skilled jobs. In either case, instead of accepting the challenge and trying to beat the competition, too many American workers will call out for protection. And again, some shameless politician will offer it.

Speaking of shameless politicians, what was Mitt Romney thinking when he told Michigan voters that all those lost jobs in the U.S. auto industry might just come back?

Sure, and Ford might start making Edsels again.

It took John McCain to dish out some straight talk and tell Michigan voters what they need to hear -- that these jobs are gone because the world is changing and they have to change with it.


That was awfully brave. But McCain could have gone further. He could have explained that organized labor helped bring about this displacement by pricing autoworkers out of the market. He could have pointed out that many workers went along for the ride because they felt entitled to the same standard of living that their parents enjoyed but didn't want to get the extra schooling or training to achieve it. He could have said that the situation is complicated by the fact that there will always be those who won't move away from their hometowns -- even when the towns are on life support. And, finally, he could have reminded voters that they can't always blame their problems on others and that, sooner or later, they have to grow up and take control of their lives and their destiny.

As part of a stimulus package, the government wants to send out tax rebates to jump-start the economy. That's all well and good. But what some Americans really need isn't a check they take to the bank. It's a lecture they take to heart.

Ruben Navarrette's e-mail address is .

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