- - Tuesday, September 3, 2013

In the Obama era, the future isn’t what it used to be

I’m hearing a lot of “it is what it is” these days, especially from young people. As in: “I’d been waiting nearly three hours when his secretary came out and said he didn’t have time for the interview after all. It is what it is.” Also, “Gunfire outside my place woke me up about 2 a.m. I didn’t even get out of bed. It is what it is.” The phrase is an existential surrender, tolling the knell of fatalism and acceptance of the unacceptable. It bespeaks an unhealthy mindset, especially in young people who should be in an eager state of hope about their future. In the years since it was mugged by President Obama, hope has fallen and may not be able to get up.

There’s good reason for youth’s malaise expressed as “it is what it is.” Joblessness among those 18 to 29 years old reached 16.1 percent in June, counting the 1.7 million who have given up the job search but who the administration refuses to figure into unemployment statistics. Among young adult blacks it’s 23.7 percent, without even taking into account those who have thrown in the towel.

Young adults unable to join the American economy because of lack of work and thus, income, also can’t afford the consumer purchases that drive two-thirds of that economic engine. Instead of buying homes or even renting that so-very-awesome first apartment, according to 2012 census figures, 36 percent of those aged 18 to 31 — that’s about 22 million — woke up every morning in their old bedroom at their parents’ house, greeted by faded Foo Fighter and Britney Spears posters.

While youth are becoming accustomed to bathing in the warm-spit recovery known as “the new normal,” they’re also learning their “temporary” jobs could well become permanent. Some 28 percent of workers are projected to hold low-wage jobs earning about $11 per hour in 2020, roughly the same percentage as in 2010, according to a study by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. The analysis says the economy won’t support much growth in jobs with higher salaries.

The learned helplessness of “it is what it is” may become the bleak mindset of Americans as we recalibrate our possibilities or lack thereof. Family stories prove it’s no myth that this nation was built by rugged individualists with a can-do boldness that sparked a prosperity the world had never seen. That can-do spirit, though, crumbles to “can’t do” when Mr. Obama admonishes job creators that “you didn’t build that” and backs it up with mindless regulations that squelch initiative and industry.

When workers in 35 states can make a better living by shaking the welfare-money tree than by getting a job, as a new Cato Institute study found, the very concept of ambition becomes laughable. Could it be just coincidence that in Hawaii, Mr. Obama’s home state, welfare-takers rake in the most benefits at $60,590 pre-tax annually when the state median salary is only $36,275? This is math even graduates of America’s public schools can understand.

The almighty state bent on claiming life-giving power over its citizens must first persuade them that their efforts to succeed on their own are fruitless. With policies that hack away at the crucial connection between effort and reward, between getting a job and earning an honorable living, the government can replace Americans’ natural ambition with “it is what it is” passivity. A population that has given up on belief in itself will eventually place its fate in the hands of the overlords of government instead.

When the “it is what it is” worldview has fully taken hold, a docile citizenry will accept virtually anything rather than react to the outrageous with rational outrage. Would the government need to spend $700 million to persuade us to sign up if utopian Obamacare was so wonderful? It is what it is. Do we still have no idea who ordered the stand-down that doomed the four men slain in Benghazi, Libya, or where the president was at the time? It is what it is. Does the same Internal Revenue Service that persecuted liberty and Tea Party groups and leaked their information to their media foes now have control over all our private medical secrets? It is what it is.

And so on. Consider how very different our nation’s history would have looked if “it is what it is” had guided America’s critical moments. The Wright Brothers: “Humans have two feet because we’re meant to tread the ground, not aspire to the heavens. It is what it is.” Henry Ford: “As a method of transportation, the horse could use some design improvements, but it is what it is.” George Washington: “No way our ragged bunch of farmers can take on the most powerful nation on earth. It is what it is.”

Joy Overbeck is a Colorado author and journalist.