Thomas Friedman: Making America Great Again47:49

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Pulitzer-Prize winning columnist and “frustrated optimist” Thomas Friedman on what it will take to make America great again.

Thomas Friedman speaks with host Tom Ashbrook during a live taping of On Point Oct. 4, 2011 at the Paramount Center, Boston. (Alex Kingsbury/WBUR)
Thomas Friedman speaks with host Tom Ashbrook during a live taping of On Point Oct. 4, 2011 at the Paramount Center, Boston. (Alex Kingsbury/WBUR)

New York Times columnist Tom Friedman is a frame-maker. For thirty years he’s been framing first the Middle East then the world and world economy.

Love him or hate him, in bestselling book after book he frames the understanding millions of people have of what’s going on. Now Friedman says America’s going down - but doesn’t have to. That we need a third party candidate to shake up polarized and illusion-bound Republicans and Democrats. To lead the country back to greatness.

This hour, in a special live audience broadcast of On Point: Tom Friedman on making America great again.
-Tom Ashbrook


Thomas Friedman, co-author with Michael Mandelbaum of the bestselling new book, “That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back.” He is a three-time recipient of the Pulitzer Prize and columnist for The New York Times.


From Tom's Reading List


The New York Times "The main line of the book’s argument will arrive with congenial familiarity. Friedman is one of America’s most famous commentators, Mandelbaum one of its most distinguished academic experts on foreign policy. Their views — and their point of view — are well known. They speak from just slightly to the left of the battered American political center: for free trade, open immigration, balanced budgets, green energy, consumption taxes, health care reform, investments in education and infrastructure."

Christian Science Monitor "In That Used to Be Us, Friedman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The New York Times, and Mandelbaum, a foreign-policy expert at Johns Hopkins University, do a masterly job of explaining just what’s wrong and why our nation is on the brink of tragedy. They employ lively examples and telling statistics to make their points, and buttress them with incisive quotes from those inside America’s political system. From preface to conclusion, the book paints a devastating picture."

Financial Times "Aiming to fill the gap they think Obama has left, Friedman and Mandelbaum present an ambitious programme for retooling America. They pick out four areas of policy in need of urgent attention: America’s response to globalisation, the ongoing revolution in information technology, the country’s chronic indebtedness and its excessive reliance on environmentally toxic oil, much of it imported."


Preface: Growing Up in America

A reader might ask why two people who have devoted their careers to writing about foreign affairs—¬one of us as a foreign correspondent and columnist at The New York ¬Times and the other as a professor of American foreign policy at The ¬Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies—¬have collaborated on a book about the American condition today. The answer is simple. We have been friends for more than twenty years, and in that time hardly a week has gone by without our discussing some aspect of international relations and American foreign policy. But in the last couple of years, we started to notice something: Every conversation would begin with foreign policy but end with domestic policy—¬what was happening, or not happening, in the United States. Try as we might to redirect them, the conversations kept coming back to America and our seeming inability today to rise to our greatest challenges.

This situation, of course, has enormous foreign policy implications. America plays a huge and, more often than not, constructive role in the world today. But that role depends on the country’s social, political, and economic health. And America today is not healthy—-economically or politically. This book is our effort to explain how we got into that state and how we get out of it.

We beg the reader’s indulgence with one style issue. At times, we include stories, anecdotes, and interviews that involve only one of us. To make clear who is involved, we must, in effect, quote ourselves: “As Tom recalled . . .” “As Michael wrote . . .” You can’t simply say “I said” or “I saw” when you have a ¬co-¬authored book with a lot of reporting in it.

Readers familiar with our work know us mainly as authors and commentators, but we are also both, well, Americans. That is im-portant, because that identity drives the book as much as our policy interests do. So here are just a few words of introduction from each of us—¬not as experts but as citizens.

Tom: I was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and was raised in a small suburb called St. ¬Louis Park—¬made famous by the brothers ¬Ethan and Joel Coen in their movie A Serious Man, which was set in our neighborhood. Senator Al Franken, the Coen brothers, the Harvard political philosopher Michael J. Sandel, the political scientist Norman Ornstein, the longtime NFL football coach Marc Trestman, and I all grew up in and around that little suburb within a few years of one another, and it surely had a big impact on all of us. In my case, it bred a deep optimism about America and the notion that we ¬really¬ can act collectively for the common good.

In 1971, the year I graduated from high school, Time magazine had a cover featuring ¬then ¬Minnesota governor Wendell Anderson holding up a fish he had just caught, under the headline “The Good Life in Minnesota.” It was all about “the state that works.” When the senators from your childhood were the Democrats Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, and Eugene McCarthy, your congressmen were the moderate Republicans ¬Clark MacGregor and Bill Frenzel, and the leading corporations in your state—¬Dayton’s, Target, General Mills, and 3M—¬were pioneers in corporate social responsibility and believed that it was part of their mission to help build things like the Tyrone Guthrie Theater, you wound up with a deep conviction that politics -really¬ can work and that there is a viable political center in American life.

I attended public school with the same group of kids from K through 12. In those days in Minnesota, private schools were for kids in trouble. Private school was pretty much unheard of for ¬middle-¬class St. ¬Louis Park kids, and pretty much everyone was middle-class. My mom enlisted in the U.S. Navy in ¬World War II, and my parents actually bought our home thanks to the loan she got through the GI Bill. My dad, who never went to college, was vice president of a company that sold ball bearings. My wife, Ann Bucksbaum, was born in Mar-shalltown, Iowa, and was raised in Des Moines. To this day, my best friends are still those kids I grew up with in St. ¬Louis Park, and I still carry around a mental image—¬no doubt idealized—¬of Minnesota that anchors and informs a lot of my ¬political choices. No matter where I go—¬London, Beirut, Jerusalem, Washington, Beijing, or Bangalore—-I’m always looking to rediscover that land of ten thousand lakes where politics actually worked to make people’s lives better, not pull them apart. That used to be us. In fact, it used to be my neighborhood.

Michael: ¬While Tom and his wife come from the middle of the country, my wife, Anne Mandelbaum, and I grew up on the two coasts—¬she in Manhattan and I in Berkeley, California. My father was a professor of anthropology at the University of California, and my mother, after my two siblings and I reached high school age, became a public school teacher and then joined the education faculty at the university that we called, simply, Cal.

Although Berkeley has a reputation for political radicalism, during my childhood in the 1950s it had more in common with Tom’s Minneapolis than with the Berkeley the world has come to know. It was more a slice of Middle America than a hotbed of revolution. As amazing as it may seem today, for part of my boyhood it had a Republican mayor and was represented by a Republican congressman.

One episode from those years is particularly relevant to this book. It occurred in the wake of the Soviet Union’s 1957 launching of Sputnik, the first ¬Earth-¬orbiting satellite. The event was a shock to the United States, and the shock waves reached Garfield Junior High School (since renamed after Martin Luther King Jr.), where I was in seventh grade. The entire student body was summoned to an assembly at which the principal solemnly informed us that in the future we all would have to study harder, and that mathematics and science would be crucial.

¬Given my parents’ commitment to education, I did not need to be told that school and studying were important. But I was impressed by the gravity of the moment. I understood that the United States faced a national challenge and that everyone would have to contribute to meeting it. I did not doubt that America, and Americans, would meet it. ¬There is no going back to the 1950s, and there are many reasons to be glad that that is so, but the kind of seriousness the country was ca-pable of then is just as necessary now.

We now live and work in the nation’s capital, where we have seen firsthand the government’s failure to come to terms with the major challenges the country faces. But although this book’s perspective on the present is gloomy, its hopes and expectations for the future are high. We know that America can meet its challenges. ¬After all, that’s the America where we grew up.

Thomas L. Friedman
Michael Mandelbaum

Bethesda, Maryland, June 2011

If You See Something, Say Something
This is a book about America that begins in China.

In September 2010, Tom attended the ¬World Economic ¬Forum’s summer conference in Tianjin, China. Five years earlier, getting to Tianjin had involved a ¬three-¬and-¬a-¬half-¬hour car ride from Beijing to a polluted, crowded Chinese version of Detroit, but things had changed. Now, to get to Tianjin, you head to the Beijing ¬South Railway Station—¬an ultramodern flying saucer of a building with glass walls and an oval roof covered with 3,246 solar panels—¬buy a ticket from an electronic kiosk offering choices in Chinese and En¬glish, and board a -world-¬class ¬high-¬speed train that goes right to another roomy, modern train station in downtown Tianjin. Said to be the fastest in the world when it began ¬operating in 2008, the Chinese bullet train covers 115 kilometers, or 72 miles, in a mere twenty-nine minutes.

The conference itself took place at the Tianjin Meijiang Convention and Exhibition Center—¬a massive, beautifully appointed structure, the like of which exists in few American cities. As if the convention center wasn’t impressive enough, the conference’s ¬co--sponsors in Tianjin gave some facts and figures about it (www.¬ They noted that it contained a total floor area of 230,000 square meters ¬(almost 2.5 million square feet) and that “construction of the Meijiang Convention Center started on September 15, 2009, and was completed in May, 2010.” Reading that line, Tom started counting on his fingers: Let’s see—September, October, November, December, January . . .
¬Eight months.

Returning home to Maryland from that trip, Tom was describing the Tianjin complex and how quickly it was built to Michael and his wife, Anne. At one point Anne asked: “Excuse me, Tom. Have you been to our subway stop lately?” We all live in Bethesda and often use the Washington Metrorail subway to get to work in downtown Washington, D.C. Tom had just been at the Bethesda station and knew exactly what Anne was talking about: The two short escalators had been under repair for nearly six months. ¬While the one being fixed was closed, the other had to be shut off and converted into a ¬two-¬way staircase. At rush hour, this was creating a huge mess. Everyone trying to get on or off the platform had to squeeze single file up and down one frozen escalator. It sometimes took ten minutes just to get out of the station. A sign on the closed escalator said that its repairs were part of a massive escalator “modernization” project.
What was taking this “modernization” project so long? We investigated. ¬Cathy Asato, a spokeswoman for the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority, had told the Maryland Community News (October 20, 2010) that “the repairs were scheduled to take about six months and are on schedule. Mechanics need 10 to 12 weeks to fix each escalator.”
A simple comparison made a startling point: It took China’s Teda Construction ¬Group ¬thirty-¬two weeks to build a ¬world-¬class convention center from the ground up—¬including giant escalators in every corner—¬and it was taking the Washington ¬Metro crew ¬twenty-¬four weeks to repair two tiny escalators of ¬twenty-¬one steps each. We searched a little further and found that WTOP, a local news radio sta-tion, had interviewed the ¬Metro interim general manager, Richard Sarles, on July 20, 2010. Sure, these escalators are old, he said, but “they have not been kept in a state of good repair. We’re behind the curve on that, so we have to catch up . . . Just last week, smoke began pouring out of the escalators at the Dupont Circle station during rush hour.”

On November 14, 2010, The Washington Post ran a letter to the -editor from Mark Thompson of Kensington, Maryland, who wrote:
I have noted with interest your reporting on the $225,000 study that ¬Metro hired Vertical Transportation Excellence to conduct into the sorry state of the system’s escalators and elevators . . . I am sure that the study has merit. But as someone who has ridden ¬Metro for more than 30 years, I can think of an easier way to assess the health of the escalators. For decades they ran silently and efficiently. But over the past several years—¬when the escalators are running—¬aging or ¬ill-¬fitting parts have generated horrific noises that sound to me like a Tyrannosaurus Rex trapped in a tar pit screeching its dying screams.

The quote we found most disturbing, though, came from a Maryland Community News story about the long lines at rush hour caused by the seemingly endless ¬Metro repairs: “ ‘My impression, standing on line there, is people have sort of gotten used to it,’ said Benjamin Ross, who lives in Bethesda and commutes every day from the downtown station.”
The National Watercooler
People have sort of gotten used to it. Indeed, that sense of resignation, that sense that, well, this is just how things are in America today, that sense that America’s best days are behind it and China’s best days are ahead of it, have become the subject of watercooler, ¬dinner-¬party, -grocery-¬line, and classroom conversations all across America today. We hear the doubts from children, who haven’t been to China. Tom took part in the September 2010 Council of Educational Facility Planners International (CEFPI) meeting in San Jose, California. As part of the program, there was a “¬School of the Future Design Competition,” which called for junior high school students to design their own ideal green school. He met with the finalists on the last morning of the convention, and they talked about global trends. At one point, Tom asked them what they thought about China. A young ¬blond-¬haired junior high school student, Isabelle Foster, from Old Lyme Middle School in Connecticut, remarked, “It seems like they have more ambition and will than we do.” Tom asked her, “¬Where did you get that thought?” She couldn’t ¬really¬ explain it, she said. She had never visited China. But it was just how she felt. It’s in the air.
We heard the doubts about America from Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, in his angry reaction after the National Football League postponed for two days a game scheduled in Philadelphia between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings—¬because of a severe snowstorm. The NFL ordered the games postponed because it didn’t want fans driving on icy, ¬snow-¬covered roads. But Rendell saw it as an indicator of something more troubling—¬that Americans had gone soft. “It goes against everything that football is all about,” Rendell said in an interview with the sports radio station 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia (December 27, 2010). “We’ve become a nation of wusses. The Chinese are kicking our butt in everything. If this was in China, do you think the Chinese would have called off the game? People would have been marching down to the stadium, they would have walked, and they would have been doing calculus on the way down.”
We read the doubts in letters to the editor, such as this impassioned post by Eric R. on The New York ¬Times comments page under a column Tom wrote about ¬China (December 1, 2010):
We are nearly complete in our evolution from ¬Lewis and ¬Clark into ¬Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam. We used to embrace challenges, endure privation, throttle our fear and strike out into the (unknown) wilderness. In this mode we rallied to span the continent with railroads, construct a national highway system, defeated monstrous dictators, cured polio and landed men on the moon. Now we text and put on makeup as we drive, spend more on video games than books, forswear exercise, demonize hunting, and are rapidly succumbing to obesity and diabetes. So much for the pioneering spirit that made us (once) the greatest nation on earth, one that others looked up to and called “exceptional.”
Sometimes the doubts hit us where we least expect them. A few weeks after returning from China, Tom went to the ¬White ¬House to conduct an interview. He passed through the ¬Secret Service checkpoint on Pennsylvania Avenue, and after putting his bags through the ¬X-¬ray machine and collecting them, he grabbed the metal door handle to enter the ¬White ¬House driveway. The handle came off in his hand. “Oh, it does that sometimes,” the Secret Service agent at the door said nonchalantly, as Tom tried to fit the wobbly handle back into the socket.
And often now we hear those doubts from visitors here—¬as when a neighbor in Bethesda mentions that over the years he has hired several young women from Germany to help with his child care, and they always remark on two things: how many squirrels there are in Washington, and how rutted the streets are. They just can’t believe that America’s capital would have such potholed streets.
Frustrated Optimists
So, do we buy the idea, increasingly popular in some circles, that Brit-ain owned the nineteenth century, America dominated the twentieth century, and ¬China will inevitably reign supreme in the ¬twenty-¬first century—¬and that all you have to do is fly from Tianjin or Shanghai to Washington, D.C., and take the subway to know that?
No, we do not. And we have written this book to explain why no American, young or old, should resign himself or herself to that view either. The two of us are not pessimists when it comes to America and its future. We are optimists, but we are also frustrated. We are frustrated optimists. In our view, the two attitudes go together. We are optimists because American society, with its ¬freewheeling spirit, its diversity of opinions and talents, its flexible economy, its work ethic and penchant for innovation, is in fact ideally suited to thrive in the tremendously challenging world we are living in. We are optimists because the American political and economic systems, when functioning ¬properly, can harness the nation’s talents and energy to meet the challenges the country faces. We are optimists because Americans have plenty of experience in doing big, hard things together. And we are optimists be-cause our track rec¬ord of national achievement gives ample grounds for believing we can overcome our present difficulties.
But that’s also why we’re frustrated. Optimism or pessimism about America’s future cannot simply be a function of our capacity to do great things or our history of having done great things. It also has to be a function of our will actually to do those things again. So many Americans are doing great things today, but on a small scale. Philanthropy, volunteerism, individual initiative: they’re all impressive, but what the country needs most is collective action on a large scale.
We cannot be pessimists about America when we know that it is home to so many creative, talented, ¬hardworking people, but we cannot help but be frustrated when we discover how many of those people feel that our country is not educating the workforce they need, or admitting the energetic immigrants they seek, or investing in the infrastructure they require, or funding the research they envision, or putting in place the intelligent tax laws and incentives that our competitors have installed.
Hence the title of this opening chapter: “If you see something, say something.” That is the mantra that the Department of Homeland Security plays over and over on loudspeakers in airports and railroad stations around the country. Well, we have seen and heard something, and millions of Americans have, too. What we’ve seen is not a suspicious package left under a stairwell. What we’ve seen is hiding in plain sight. We’ve seen something that poses a greater threat to our national security and ¬well-¬being than ¬al-¬Qaeda does. We’ve seen a country with enormous potential falling into disrepair, political disarray, and palpable discomfort about its present condition and future prospects.

This book is our way of saying something—¬about what is wrong, why things have gone wrong, and what we can and must do to make them right.
Why say it now, though, and why the urgency?

“Why now?” is easy to answer: because our country is in a slow decline, just slow enough for us to be able to pretend—¬or believe—-that a decline is not taking place. As the ¬ever-¬optimistic Timothy Shriver, chairman of the Special Olympics, son of Peace ¬Corps founder Sargent Shriver, and nephew of President John F. Kennedy, responded when we told him about our book: “It’s as though we just slip a little each year and shrug it off to circumstances beyond our control—¬an economic downturn here, a social problem there, the political mess this year. We’re losing a step a day and no one’s saying, Stop!” No doubt, Shriver added, most Americans “would still love to be the country of great ideals and achievements, but no one seems willing to pay the price.” Or, as Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, put it to us: “What we lack in the U.S. today is the confidence that is generated by solving one big, hard problem—¬together.” It has been a long time now since we did something big and hard together.
We will argue that this ¬slow-¬motion decline has four broad causes. First, since the end of the Cold War, we, and especially our political leaders, have stopped starting each day by asking the two questions that are crucial for determining public policy: What world are we living in, and what exactly do we need to do to thrive in this world? The U.S. Air ¬Force has a strategic doctrine originally designed by one of its officers, John Boyd, called the OODA loop. It stands for “observe, orient, decide, act.” Boyd argued that when you are a fighter pilot, if your OODA loop is faster than the other guy’s, you will always win the dogfight. Today, America’s OODA loop is far too slow and often dis-combobulated. In American political discourse today, there is far too little observing, orienting, deciding, and acting and far too much shouting, asserting, dividing, and postponing. When the world gets -really fast, the speed with which a country can effectively observe, orient, decide, and act matters more than ever.
Second, over the last twenty years, we as a country have failed to address some of our biggest problems—¬particularly education, deficits and debt, and energy and climate change—¬and now they have all worsened to a point where they cannot be ignored but they also cannot be effectively addressed without collective action and collective sacrifice. Third, to make matters worse, we have stopped investing in our country’s traditional formula for greatness, a formula that goes back to the founding of the country. Fourth, as we will explain, we have not been able to fix our problems or reinvest in our strengths because our political system has become paralyzed and our system of values has suffered serious erosion. But finally, being optimists, we will offer our own strategy for overcoming these problems.
“Why the urgency?” is also easy to answer. In part the urgency stems from the fact that as a country we do not have the resources or the time to waste that we had twenty years ago, when our budget deficit was under control and all of our biggest challenges seemed at least manageable. In the last decade especially, we have spent so much of our time and energy—¬and the next generation’s money—¬fighting terrorism and indulging ourselves with tax cuts and cheap credit that we now have no reserves. We are driving now without a bumper, without a spare tire, and with the gas gauge nearing empty. Should the market or Mother Nature make a sudden disruptive move in the wrong direction, we would not have the resources to shield ourselves from the worst effects, as we had in the past. Winston Churchill was fond of saying that “America will always do the right thing, but only after exhausting all other options.” America simply doesn’t have time anymore for exhausting any options other than the right ones.
Our sense of urgency also derives from the fact that our political system is not ¬properly framing, let alone addressing, our ultimate challenge. Our goal should not be merely to solve America’s debt and deficit problems. That is far too narrow. Coping with these problems is important—¬indeed necessary and urgent—¬but it is only a means to an end. The goal is for America to remain a great country. This means that while reducing our deficits, we must also invest in education, infrastructure, and research and development, as well as open our society more widely to talented immigrants and fix the regulations that govern our economy. Immigration, education, and sensible regulation are tradi¬tional ingredients of the American formula for greatness. They are more vital than ever if we hope to realize the full potential of the American people in the coming decades, to generate the resources to sustain our prosperity, and to remain the global leader that we have been and that the world needs us to be. We, the authors of this book, don’t want simply to restore American solvency. We want to maintain American greatness. We are not ¬green-¬eyeshade guys.
We’re Fourth of July guys.
China, Again
And to maintain American greatness, the right option for us is not to become more like China. It is to become more like ourselves. Cer-tainly, ¬China has made extraordinary strides in lifting tens of millions of its people out of poverty and in modernizing its infrastructure—¬from convention centers, to highways, to airports, to housing. China’s relentless focus on economic development and its willingness to search the world for the best practices, experiment with them, and then scale those that work is truly impressive.
But the Chinese still suffer from large and potentially debilitating problems: a lack of freedom, rampant corruption, horrible pollution, and an education system that historically has stifled creativity. ¬China does not have better political or economic systems than the United States. In order to sustain its remarkable economic progress, we believe, ¬China will ultimately have to adopt more features of the American system, particularly the political and economic liberty that are fundamental to our success. ¬China cannot go on relying heavily on its ability to mobilize cheap labor and cheap capital and on copying and assembling the innovations of others.

Still, right now, we believe that ¬China is getting 90 percent of the potential benefits from its ¬second-¬rate political system. It is getting the most out of its authoritarianism. But here is the shortcoming that Americans should be focused on: We are getting only 50 percent of the potential benefits from our ¬first-¬rate system. We are getting so much less than we can, should, and must get out of our democracy.
In short, our biggest problem is not that we’re failing to keep up with China’s best practices but that we’ve strayed so far from our own best practices. America’s future depends not on our adopting features of the Chinese system, but on our making our own democratic system work with the kind of focus, moral authority, seriousness, collective action, and ¬stick-¬to-¬itiveness that ¬China has managed to generate by authoritarian means for the last several decades.

In our view, all of the comparisons between ¬China and the United States that you hear around American watercoolers these days aren’t about ¬China at all. They are about us. ¬China is just a mirror. We’re -really talking about ourselves and our own loss of ¬self-¬confidence. We see in the Chinese some character traits that we once had—¬that once defined us as a nation—¬but that we seem to have lost.
Orville Schell heads up the Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations in New York City. He is one of America’s most experienced -China-¬watchers. He also attended the Tianjin conference, and one afternoon, after a particularly powerful presentation there about China’s latest economic leap forward, Tom asked Schell why he thought China’s rise has come to unnerve and obsess Americans.

“Because we have recently begun to find ourselves so unable to get things done, we tend to look with a certain ¬over-¬idealistic yearning when it comes to China,” Schell answered. “We see what they have done and project onto them something we miss, fearfully miss, in ourselves”—¬that “¬can-¬do, ¬get-¬it-¬done, ¬everyone-¬pull-¬together, ¬whatever-¬it-¬takes” attitude that built our highways and dams and put a man on the moon. “¬These were hallmarks of our childhood culture,” said Schell. “But now we view our country turning into the opposite, even as we see ¬China becoming animated by these same kinds of energies . . . ¬China desperately wants to prove itself to the world, while at the same time America seems to be losing its hunger to demonstrate its excellence.” The Chinese are motivated, Schell continued, by a “deep yearning to restore ¬China to greatness, and, sadly, one all too often feels that we are losing that very motor force in America.”
The two of us do feel that, but we do not advocate policies and practices to sustain American greatness out of arrogance or a spirit of chauvinism. We do it out of a love for our country and a powerful be-lief in what a force for good America can be—¬for its own citizens and for the world—¬at its best. We are well aware of America’s imperfections, past and present. We know that every week in America a politician takes a bribe; someone gets convicted of a crime he or she did not commit; public money gets wasted that should have gone for a new bridge, a new school, or pathbreaking research; many young people drop out of school; young women get pregnant without committed fathers; and people unfairly lose their jobs or their houses. The cynic says, “Look at the gap between our ideals and our reality. Any talk of American greatness is a lie.” The partisan says, “Ignore the gap. We’re still ‘exceptional.’ ” Our view is that the gaps do matter, and this book will have a lot to say about them. But America is not defined by its gaps. Our greatness as a country—¬what truly defines us—¬is and always has been our ¬never-¬ending effort to close these gaps, our constant struggle to form a more perfect union. The gaps simply show us the work we still have to do.
To repeat: Our problem is not China, and our solution is not China. Our problem is us—¬what we are doing and not doing, how our political system is functioning and not functioning, which values we are and are not living by. And our solution is us—¬the people, the society, and the government that we used to be, and can be again. That is why this book is meant as both a ¬wake-¬up call and a pep talk—-unstinting in its critique of where we are and unwavering in its opti-mism about what we can achieve if we act together.
Excerpted from THAT USED TO BE US: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back by Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum, published in September 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2011 by Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum. All rights reserved.

This program aired on October 5, 2011.