Jewish World Review May 6, 2003 / 4 Iyar, 5763
Optimism is unfashionable, but here's some anyway
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | Here we go again. Media criticism of the Bush administration is mounting, and those nine or 10 candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination seemingly can't find anything the Bush administration has done right.
Oh, sure, there's been regime change in Iraq, but the U.S. military required three whole weeks to take Baghdad. In the three weeks since Baghdad fell, the United States, United Kingdom and the coalition haven't been able to create a democracy in Iraq. And, as of right now, it looks as though President Bush won't be able to cut taxes by more than $350 billion.
What a terrible mess.
But let me suggest that we may not be in as sorry a state as some of Bush's critics claim. Please don't make too much of these positives, because there's a premium now on hand-wringing and negativity.
Confidence in the direction of the country is up. Confidence in the economy is up. Confidence in the markets is up.
The president recently declared that the major combat in Iraq is over. Saddam Hussein has been deposed. There are also new indications that terror attacks throughout the world are declining. The State Department's annual report on global terrorism says the number of terror attacks fell 44 percent last year, to the lowest level in three decades. And international mediators have formally presented Israel and Palestine with a new plan to bring peace to the Middle East after more than half a century of conflict.
In terms of the economy, recent developments are also mostly positive. First-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies are running nearly 14 percent higher than they were a year ago. Oil prices are down sharply from prewar levels. Mortgage rates are back near record lows. Washington will likely deliver another boost to the economy by passing a version of President Bush's economic growth package. And according to an ABC/Washington Post poll from mid-April, 65 percent of those surveyed said they were satisfied with the way things are going - up sharply from February.
There's also good news on the financial markets. Investor confidence is improving. The UBS/Gallup Index of Investor Optimism is now at its highest level in 10 months, with more than half of those surveyed saying now is a good time to invest. And judging from the market's performance in April, they may be right. The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 6 percent - its biggest one-month advance in six months. The Nasdaq Composite surged 9 percent.
And Wall Street regulators are cracking down on corporate abuses. Last week, Wall Street securities firms and regulators finalized a $1.4 billion settlement to stop biased stock research. And the Justice Department on Thursday announced charges against eight former Enron executives.
I realize it's unfashionable in some quarters to be optimistic now, but let's put these positive developments in the context of the disturbing events of past three years.
We had the bursting of the telecom and technology bubble. We had the first bitterly contested presidential election in 130 years. We had the end of the longest economic expansion in our country's history. We had the worst market collapse since the 1930s. We had the recession of 2001. We had the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. We had the worst corporate corruption scandal in our country's history. We had the war against Saddam Hussein. And now we have the outbreak of the SARS virus.
Against that background, things are beginning to brighten a bit. If I weren't afraid of offending the naysayers, I'd have to say that all the positives we're seeing in our political economy could well add up to something that could actually be called progress.
What the heck. I'll say it: We're making progress.
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