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091111Does_America_Have_a_Future - By DAVID FRUM THAT USED...

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Does America Have a Future? By DAVID FRUM THAT USED TO BE US How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back By Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum 380 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $28. Failure after failure after failure. Bubbles that end in busts. Wars that aren’t won. Stimuli that don’t stimulate. All together plunging the United States into the worst economic slump since the 1930s. Meanwhile, across the Pacific, America faces a geopolitical rival that is also an effective economic competitor — a combination not seen since the kaiser’s Germany. Into this grim situation, Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum step forward to offer hope. Or do they? For there is an unnerving tension at the core of “That Used to Be Us,” a discordant emotional counterpoint. I don’t think it’s a disagreement between the authors so much as a disagreement within each of them. Friedman and Mandelbaum repeatedly describe themselves as “optimists,” albeit “frustrated” optimists. Yet the stories they tell repeatedly suggest very different and less reassuring conclusions. The main line of the book’s argument will arrive with congenial familiarity. Friedman is one of America’s most famous commentators, Mandelbaum one of its most distinguished academic experts on foreign policy. Their views — and their point of view — are well known. They speak from just slightly to the left of the battered American political center: for free trade, open immigration , balanced budgets, green energy, consumption taxes, health care reform, investments in education and infrastructure. There is a lot to like and admire in this approach. It is progressive and liberal in the best senses of both those words. It has resulted in a book that is at once enlightened and enlightening. Friedman — not that you need me to tell you this — is a very good reporter. He takes us with him to visit a high school for
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