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A Land of Hope

  • Gavin Hewitt
  • 28 Oct 08, 01:05 AM GMT

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: As I bounce around America in the wake of Barack Obama it feels, at times, that I have been given a ringside seat at a giant shredder. Everywhere old certainties are being torn up.

First up, Alan Greenspan, the economics guru whose name only recently was whispered in awe. Now he's confessing: he was wrong to believe the financial industry could regulate itself.

Next up, the trickle-down believers who thought wealth would filter down to the poorest. It didn't. Wages are lower than they've been for a decade. There's not a trickle-down advocate left on the strip.

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Then there's the free market president explaining why the government should take a major share in the nation's top banks.

Ditched too is part of the Protestant work ethic that valued thrift along with hard work. The government and plenty of voters have gorged themselves on debt. Barack Obama today said: "We've been living through a period of profound irresponsibility."

Then there are the evangelists at the World Bank and IMF who told emerging economies that they should ape the American model. The advice is hastily being written out of the script.

America - the beacon on a hill. Some are junking that too. A woman in Philadelphia told me she now says she's a Canadian when she travels.

Then there are those K Street think tanks in Washington who believed that exporting democracy would transform the Middle East. You can scan the talk shows for them but they've long since left town.

There's a firesale going on for old beliefs. Everything one once held was true must go - or so it seems. Close an eye in this upside down world and Dick Cheney will soon be palling around with Fidel Castro.

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But one belief stands unshaken: American exceptionalism. Listen to Barack Obama today: "We still have the most talented and productive workers of any country on earth."
He has a frequent riff at his rallies: "We're Americans. Our destiny is not written for us.
We chose our destiny." I think it was at the Republican convention that I heard Laura Bush saying there are no people as generous as Americans. Sarah Palin believes America is a chosen land with a special destiny.

So no candidate can afford to be too negative. In the darkest times each candidate has to offer if not quite "morning in America" but "the best lies ahead". Its strikes me at the rallies what fun both Democrats and Republicans are having. They leave, bouyed up, comfortable that whatever the current problems all will be well.

Barack Obama said today: "What has been lost..is our sense of a common purpose." That may be, but at these political events American optimism prospers. It is perhaps why covering politics here is so enjoyable.

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