Dobbs: It's good to be a superpower
By Lou Dobbs
Editor's note: Lou Dobbs' weekly commentary will return on September 6.
Lou Dobbs decries America's reliance on imports for the basic necessities of modern life, such as fuel and clothing.
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- The Soviet Union, Marxist Leninism, the Evil Empire and their ugly metaphor, the Berlin Wall, crumbled and collapsed almost 17 years ago.
At the time, I thought it was strange that the United States didn't have the inclination to celebrate. There were no victory parades and no fireworks; nor did Congress declare a V-CW Day, as in Victory in the Cold War. There weren't even any grand speeches about America's emergence as the World's Only Superpower.
But a grand smugness did grip most of Washington. And hubris became the foundation of almost every national policy, foreign and domestic. And why not? We were entitled as the World's Only Superpower.
What a blessing, all these superpower advantages. What other people besides Americans can afford not to make their own clothes? The world has other people for such menial tasks, and they sell us all but a few of our shoes, shirts, slacks, suits, dresses and coats (and, of course, accessories). We now import around 96 percent of our clothing.
What other nation can afford to dismantle its manufacturing base and export high-paying middle-class jobs overseas to lesser, cheaper foreign labor markets and then buy back the goods those poorer people provide us?
And energy? Why, we Americans have money to burn. We spend $15-20 billion each and every month to import fuel for our cars, trucks, office buildings and few remaining factories and plants. We can be heedless to the consequences, because as Vice President Dick Cheney suggests, conservation doesn't work well anyway. So why be bothered with such irritating constraints?
Because we're a superpower, we needn't concern ourselves with silly little annoyances like trade and budget deficits. Who cares? What greater proof of our superpower status can there be than 30 consecutive years of trade deficits, evaporating surpluses in services and agricultural goods and even technology.
Our trade deficit in manufacturing soared nearly 300 percent from 1997 to 2005, surging to $662.5 billion. Our business and government leaders soothingly remind us that we are a technology economy and needn't be distracted by developments like the reversal of what was a $35-billion surplus in high-tech goods to what is now a $44-billion deficit. It's great to be The Superpower.
What about all that money we're burning? Not to worry. Spend it if you got it. Well, we really don't have it, actually. We're borrowing more than $2 billion a day to send to those lesser souls who are uncomfortably situated in poorer nations that can only aspire to our superpower status.
As to our government's budget deficit, again, that's not a problem. Our federal government keeps two sets of books: one that shows our budget deficit shrank to $319 billion last year and the Treasury Department set that shows $760 billion. Now, we don't want anyone to get needlessly anxious here. It turns out that our national debts and commitments actually stand at an incredible $49 trillion. But let's just keep that little number amongst ourselves.
The federal government uses a quaint accounting system that would be illegal for any large enterprise in America, and there are those who believe our government should be more transparent, or perhaps honest, if you will. One of those with a very unpopular wet-blanket attitude is David Williams of the Citizens Against Government Waste. "If this happened in the private sector, we would call the government 'Enron,' " Williams says.
David, David, David...A little less negativity, please. David Williams is among that small, insignificant and clearly irrelevant group of eccentric rationalists who care about cause and effect, truth and consequence.
Rep. Jim Cooper, a Tennessee Democrat, is among them as well. In his new book, Cooper writes about things like the fact that our federal government last year paid out $38 billion to the wrong people and that $20 billion of taxpayer money simply disappeared from the government's treasury.
Negativists like Williams and Cooper get all a-gaggle over the fact that the GAO can't certify the books of the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security, the Energy Department and NASA. They're even upset that the federal government has failed its annual audit for nine years in a row. Talk about Nervous Nellies.
So what if the U.S. debt rating is heading for junk status by 2025, according to Standard & Poor's. That's a problem for nations that aren't superpowers, don't you think?
When it comes to international relations, our superpower status is even clearer. Though admittedly, it is a little embarrassing to watch how easily the United States imposes its will on the Middle East and brings aspiring superpowers like China to heel on issues like human rights and democracy.
Looking back, I'm grateful that we didn't celebrate our emergence as the World's Only Superpower those many years ago. In our current exalted state, it's clear we were wise not to do so.
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