"We were a frontier people, a founding people," said Alan Dowd, a foreign-policy writer and senior fellow with the Sagamore Institute, an Indianapolis-based public policy foundation. "We forged an empire of our own, defeated European and Asian totalitarians, then faced down Moscow. Now what? Has there been a softening? I think it's a fair question."
"Asking if we've seen our best days is as American as apple pie," Mr. Dowd said. "Go back in history, and it's very common for presidents to stand before Congress and say things aren't very good. But that sense of decline is often more about feeling than fact."