Cultural Revolutions

An Economic Illness

Pollsters and pundits seem to think our American malaise is an economic illness that will be cured when the recession ends. I spent my State Department career deeply involved with the Shah's regime and revolutionary Iran and I smell deja vu. In the past four years, I've seen stronger expressions of political discontent here than in the old days in Iran—at least until crowds demanding change began to assemble by the millions. Citizens in large numbers in this country are, like their counterparts in Iran, simply fed up with those who rule them. The complaints are similar. "Traditional values are eroding. The middle class is being squeezed out. Politics are reserved exclusively for a small circle of incumbents. Only money counts. They're all corrupt. There are no real choices. Politics is hopeless, so why bother with the charade of participation?" In Iran voting was meaningless; in the United States close to a majority seems to agree.

The good news, I suppose, is that there doesn't seem to be any Ayatollah figure in view—Pat Robertson and Jesse Jackson having faded. The bad news is that we in the Foreign Service and our friends in the Iranian establishment didn't see Khomeini coming either until he was about to jerk the Persian carpet from under the Shah. In our country, however, extreme discontent may not end in revolutionary change. It may only produce a prolonged period of revulsion against...

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