Is America Strong Enough To Endure Domestic Sacrifice?
During World War II, Americans put up with rationed gas and car tires, rationed coal and fuel oil, rationed silk and nylon, rationed meat and dairy products, rationed jams and jellies, even rationed coffee.
Would today’s Americans – some of whom freaked out during the worst of the pandemic, when they couldn’t get their hair done – be willing to endure even a minuscule fraction of the sacrifices that our forebears weathered 80 years ago? I’ll answer my own question with a question: Can you imagine what would happen if coffee were rationed, and people could no longer order their favorite cafe lattes?
I pondered all that while watching President Biden deliver his State of the Union speech. He vowed on our behalf, and for the pre-eminent cause of democracy, to stick it to Russia for as long as it takes. Ukraine is fighting for its life on the front line of freedom, and, as our commander in chief said, we need to show our “resolve.”
He stressed that word many times.
We meet tonight as Americans, “with an unwavering resolve that freedom will always triumph over tyranny.” And “American resolve matters.” And “(Putin) will never weaken the resolve of the free world.” And this: “Now is the hour. Our moment of responsibility. Our test of resolve and conscience, of history itself.”
We’ll see if his fellow citizens are willing to pass that test, because it would appear that most are not willing to follow his lead. Only 37 percent say he’s doing a good job (which seems insanely low, given the 65 percent fully-vaccinated rate and the four percent unemployment rate and the six million new jobs and the signing of his historic infrastructure repair law – but hey, what do I know).
People are “tired, frustrated, and exhausted” (Biden’s words) after two years of lockdowns and masks, inflation has spiked, and now they’re being asked to hunker down a bit for more sacrifice, on behalf of a country that millions couldn’t locate on a map unless their hands were duct-taped to the correct coordinates.
This is especially true among younger Americans – who, by the luck of birth, did not experience the Cold War and barely know what it was. According to a new ABC News-Washington Post poll, only 35 percent of those aged 18 to 39 would still support sanctioning Russia if it resulted in higher energy prices at home. Indeed, only half of all Americans would still be on board. It just so happens that in our interconnected world, Russia is the third biggest producer of crude oil. And, politically speaking, woe to any president who makes it more costly to fill the sainted internal combustion engine.
Biden is releasing 30 million barrels from our Strategic Petroleum Reserve to “help blunt gas prices here at home,” as permitted under federal law (a 30-million barrel release can be ordered in the event of “a domestic or international energy supply shortage of significant scope or duration.”) And yeah, that could help – maybe for a while. But mostly he tried to mollify Americans by doing his best impression of a kindly doctor who still makes house calls, dropping his voice to a reassuring semi-whisper while telling Americans, “We are going to be okay.”
It was some consolation that Biden’s Ukraine remarks drew actual bipartisan applause. There is indeed a market for high principle, as former Republican pollster Matthew Dowd wrote: “In our country and in the world, the forces of autocracy are rising in the most significant way since World War II, and democracies are in danger of suffering tragic harms, if history is any predictor. This is why the fight in Ukraine is important to us all.”
True that. For many Americans, particularly those born after the Cold War, the fight for freedom was an abstraction. Putin has made it very real.
So here’s a handy tip for any American who gets whiny about pain at the gas pump: Just be thankful you’re not huddled with your family in some basement while killers detonate thermobaric vacuum bombs that suck oxygen out of the air. That’s real pain.
Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at DickPolman.net.
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