"Something's Gotta Give." That should be the subtitle of the second segment of CNN's "Democracy in America" series, "The Nation's Agenda: The Pillars of Our Prosperity" (at 7 p.m. Sunday).
This hourlong compression of the very hard--and very hard-to-digest--realities of U.S. economic failure in the global marketplace may be a regurgitation of innumerable past TV reports on the issue (most notably economist Robert Reich's "Made in America?" for PBS), but it's a fine primer in case you've missed the rest. And reporter-host Frank Sesno, always one of CNN's classiest voices, makes the bad news at least slightly bearable.
Curiously, while the bad news is brought to us by a host of economic, political and business observers, they don't include those who have been most out front on the issues of debt-reduction and American economic revival: Reich himself, and the team of former Sen. Paul Tsongas and Rep. Warren Rudman (R-N.H.). Instead, we hear former Commerce Secretary Pete Peterson bemoan how presidents from Nixon to Reagan ignored the warnings that Japan and Germany were beating the United States at its own game, or former Education Secretary William Brock decry poor U.S. attempts to train students for skilled work.
Yet despite Reich's absence, this key adviser to Bill Clinton's economic plan casts a giant shadow over this report. Starting with the rising national debt, "Pillars" explains how the combination of tax cuts and defense build-up during the Reagan Administration created a short-term boom in profits, but a long-term burden of unpaid debt blocking the best-laid plans to boost the economy. Meanwhile, U.S. companies such as Xerox ignored the challenge from Japan, and may or may not be recovering in time to save thousands of jobs.