Some good news is hard to find

When it comes to tests of character, my preference is to sidestep them. They’re never as rewarding as they’re reputed to be, and the most amusing one I’ve ever had was no fun at all, except later when we sat around drinking beer and laughing about the look on Ray-Ray’s face when he fell into the septic tank.

The nation, nonetheless, seems headed for a test of character the likes of which it hasn’t faced since World War II.

I hope I’m wrong, because I’m at the point in life where an economic collapse will do maximum harm: too old to recover, too young to die.

The signs, though, aren’t encouraging.

Every morning before we start our radio show, producer Greg Thomas and I scan the wires and blogs for good news. We aren’t going to gloss over the dismal side, at least as long as we can blame George Bush for it. Still, a constant diet of layoffs, cutbacks, plummeting sales and economists mumbling, “third quarter of 2010, maybe,” can wear an audience down. If we find a happy incident, we’ll pass it along.

So far, meh. The market goes up 85 points, then falls 220. Housing sales rise, but experts say it’s only because speculators are feeding off the bottom. A stock notches up on news that the company will lay off 8,000 workers; next day the market plunges, scared down by rising unemployment.

One day last week, I vowed that no matter how hard it was to find, I’d start the show with positive news. We’d get to the depressing truth in due course, but I would not lead with it.

At 6 the next morning, National Public Radio clicked on and told me there had been 33,000 layoffs the previous day at “major companies,” and possibly a like number that weren’t reported nationally. In the car, I heard House Minority Leader John Boehner, a man mystifyingly untroubled by the estimated $3 trillion cost of the Iraq war, condemning Barack Obama’s $825 billion economic stimulus plan as being too burdensome on future generations.

Boehner and his co-conspirators, lacking votes to stop Obama’s plan and aware the need for it is widely viewed as a Republican failure, have put the good of the nation aside to focus on covering their own asses. By casting doubt on the effort now, they position themselves to cut their losses: If it fails, they can say they were against it back in January. If it succeeds, they’ll skip straight to condemning the tax-and-spend Democrats for increasing the debt.

In last week’s column, I dared hope that voters would take the long view. It took the best part of a decade to get into the mess we’re in. Surely they’d allow half that long—about the minimum economists predict will be necessary—to get out.

Now I’m not so sure. It doesn’t quite show yet in the polls—as I write this, those who view Obama favorably outnumber the unfavorables 63 percent to 9—but there are signs people are already getting impatient. We’re a nation addicted to quick fixes, from no-diet diets to TV dramas that solve crimes in an hour. How long will we wait for an Obama Miracle?

However long it is—and if you say, “A year,” I’ll take the under—Boehner and his ilk are already stoking the fires. Rush Limbaugh, so far as I know, is the only prominent conservative to say out loud that he wants Obama to fail. If we could read minds, though, I’ll bet we’d find he’s a long way from alone.