Let me tell you about two of my friends, a married couple that we'll call Aaron and Stacia. They're in their 20s, happily married for several years, and each of them hold what we might call entry-level professional jobs.
They're childless (so far!); reasonably ambitious; careful with money; and blessed with good health, supportive families, and a multitude of friends. They're attractive, funny and unpretentious; almost cute enough to be on Friends.
A year or so ago, they bought a tiny cottage in the Hillside neighborhood, lived in it while fixing it up, sold it for a nice profit, and bought a two-story Victorian in Shooks Run. They're happily fixing it up; I guess they'll sell this one in another year or two, and keep going.
Stable, educated, entrepreneurial, Aaron and Stacia are the kind of folks that succeed in America. So what's wrong with that?
Nothing -- but let me tell you about another friend, April. She's a little older than Aaron and Stacia, but she already has a couple of kids. Their father is mostly absent, and doesn't do much to support them.
April works a variety of jobs -- as a hairdresser, a bartender, a supermarket bagger -- in other words, she does what she has to do to pay the rent, put food on the table, and take care of the kids. She'd like to get some more education, so that she could make a better living, but it's all she can do just to get through the day, let alone take on another responsibility.
Besides, the money just isn't there -- her parents would like to help, but they're no richer than their daughter.
For April, and for the tens of millions of folks like her, America doesn't work very well. She'd do a lot better in any Western European country, where social programs that would horrify most American legislators are normal and customary.
April's kids would benefit from virtually free, government-financed daycare. Necessities such as housing, medical care and education at every level would be far cheaper, thanks to government subsidies.
If April were ambitious and hardworking, she'd find that there were few structural obstacles that would prevent her from realizing her ambitions. And if she were content to remain in the working class, her life would be easier, less stressful, and more fulfilling than that of her American counterpart.
Now, if any American politician were to suggest that this country re-create itself around a Western European model, he/she would be laughed out of town. Why, it'd cost a hundred billion dollars! Why, you just want to reward people for being lazy! And imagine the new taxes -- the economy would collapse under the burden!
Remember back a dozen years ago, when the Soviet Union was in its death throes, and all the politicians were nattering cheerfully about the "peace dividend"?
Absent the threat of mutual annihilation, we could reduce nonproductive expenditures on defense, and catch up with our country's social agenda.
Alas, instead of doing that, we took on the job of policing the entire world. Under the Bush/Clinton/Bush doctrine, there's not a square meter of the Earth's surface that's not crucial to American interests.
Clearly, we need the ability to engage and destroy those who attack us. But when we engage the Bosnias, the Iraqs, the North Koreas, and the Pakistans of the world, note that those who benefit from our intervention don't do much to help.
We pay the freight, in blood and money, and take the blame. And those who pay most are folks like April, for whom there will never be a peace dividend. And if the pols were honest, they'd tell her that there was a peace dividend; unfortunately, the Europeans got it.
Meanwhile, although all right-thinking progressives are congratulating themselves for getting rid of that mean ol' racist Trent Lott as Senate Majority Leader, I note that the folks down in Mississippi aren't exactly rejoicing.
Maybe that's because Lott, who came from a hardscrabble working-class background, used his power to keep the Gulf Coast shipyards stuffed with military contracts, thereby providing 20,000 well-paid manufacturing jobs for blacks and whites alike.
And finally, you wouldn't think that Trent's ouster would affect the upcoming mayoral election, would you? Guess again -- because Sen. Bill Frist, the GOP"s new superstar, used to practice medicine in Tennessee with Dr. Ted Eastburn hisself!
So read it and weep, all you other mayoral wannabes. After all, who you gonna call, when Majority Leader Frist comes to town to endorse Dr. Ted?
Hey, I know what I'd do ... withdraw from the race.