Americans’ faith in the government and overall optimism has declined over the years. Congressman Leonard Lance told NJTV News Managing Editor Mike Schneider that he would like to recapture some of the optimism of the past and help get the nation’s economy back on track.
“President [John F.] Kennedy had a sense of optimism and he challenged this nation, for example, to reach the moon and to come back safely from the moon within the decade, the 1960s. I would like to recapture that optimism, the optimism with which I grew up when I was a child. I think that that is lacking in America today,” Lance said.
According to Lance, with Kennedy’s assassination, much of that optimism left but was regained in the 1980s under Ronald Reagan. “But for about a generation, really the advances among middle class Americans, those advances have not been strong,” he said.
Lance said officials need to do a better job to make sure that middle class Americans can improve their economic situations to make sure that they’re children can do better economically. “Incidentally, a part of this problem is the fact that higher education costs so much money and young people are being graduated from undergraduate school and from graduate programs with enormous amounts of debt,” he said.
Much of the middle class prosperity had been attributed to manufacturing jobs and unions, which have become more scarce. Lance said some manufacturing jobs are returning to the U.S. because of the high quality of products Americans make. “That is a hopeful sign and we have to do more to make sure that that continues to be the case,” he said.
According to Lance, officials also need to negotiate in a much tougher fashion with economic competitors, particularly the Chinese and Indians, about quality of life issues such as standards of pollution.
Lance said he believes in free trade, which is very important to the Garden State. “New Jersey’s place in the world is based upon its geography and free trade is something with which New Jerseyans are in agreement I think. However, we have to make sure that our economic competitors have better standards for their workers and certainly higher qualities of environmental protection,” he said.
The idea of a “grand bargain” is something Lance believes will happen. “If not in the immediate future, at some point. And if not with this president, with a new president. But I think that we should try to achieve that at some point,” he said.
Lance has discussed changes to Social Security, possibly raising the retirement age by a year or two for individuals currently in their 20s. “I know that for me, the retirement age was increased a year back a generation ago by President Reagan, a strong Republican, and Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, a strong Democrat. And I feel in no way aggrieved, Michael, because I was given a generation and a half advanced notice,” he said.
Despite pointing out a lack of optimism in the U.S., Lance said he still remains optimistic about the future.
“I am by nature an optimist. I believe in American exceptionalism. I think this is the greatest country in the history of the world and the values that we share in this country — freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of association — are values that we should try to espouse across the globe,” Lance said. “And whoever is president and whoever is in Congress, we should be optimistic to make sure that future generations share in the prosperity and the hope and promise that is after all the American ideal.”