It's not only entirely possible, but also likely, that the pain and anguish Americans are enduring in their personal lives today will lead to a society more sensible in its ways and attitudes. That undeniably was the fallout of the Great Depression of the 1930s when the high-flying nation was reduced to shocking spectacles of joblessness, soup kitchens for the hungry, homelessness and industrial paralysis.
Anyone born into that crisis can testify to lasting, built-in habits of self-denial and caution.
Surely the current economic calamity has cured most Americans of the notion that life is endless good times and guaranteed prosperity. They've been shocked into the reality that economic catastrophe can befall even a mighty superpower.
One of the first and perhaps most beneficial effects will be that young college grads—those lucky enough to have the wherewithal to attend and compete college—won't automatically flock to Wall Street with wide-eyed expectations of fortunes to be made. Wall Street is now in shame, again the target of resentment and anger for its cheating ways and headed for years and years of rigorous regulation. Instead, careers more constructive and gratifying will flourish.
Saving and prudent spending will be back in vogue, too. How many families wish they had wisely banked dollars for rainy days, rather than running up debt for unneeded, if not unaffordable, luxuries?
How many who scoffed at certain jobs they considered beneath their worth would dearly embrace any work now?
How many families that fell for easy-term mortgages now wish they'd bought homes they could afford?
But what of Washington—is it chastened?
If U.S. families have been imprudent, Washington has been positively foolhardy for decades in its management of the nation's treasures. The ledger of historic debt to foreign lenders to pay for extravagant wars and weaponry is sufficient testimony.
Worse, Washington deceived Americans. Politicians promised good fortune for all if Wall Street was unshackled of any regulations to do its thing. Washington preached that debt is good. Politicians applauded moving jobs overseas with tax breaks for business. Health and social programs have become unrestrained giveaways.
The truth about the real American condition was covered up by members of Congress obsessed with pleasing voters.
Whatever other good President Obama might accomplish, finally leveling with Americans about the real state of the union is earnestly needed to bring Americans to their senses and restore honesty and integrity to the public trust.
The tomfoolery of self-serving politics no longer works.