By Fareed Zakaria, CNN
Barack Obama has apparently committed blasphemy. In an interview in Florida on Sept. 29, he dared to say that America had gotten “soft.” The denunciations have come in fast and furious from the right. Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Eric Cantor and the Wall Street Journal editorial page are all shocked—shocked—that the President could say such a thing. “America is the greatest nation in the world,” Cantor declared. Romney concocted a confusing metaphor about America carrying Obama on its shoulders, but his basic point was the same. Now, if you watch the clip, here’s what the President said: “The way I think about it is, you know, this is a great, great country that had gotten a little soft, and we didn’t have that same competitive edge that we needed over the last couple of decades. We need to get back on track.” Isn’t this self-evidently true? Isn’t this what conservatives have been saying for decades?
The evidence on the topic is pretty clear. The U.S. is slipping, by most measures of global competitiveness. It has dipped slightly in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) rankings to No. 5, behind Sweden, Singapore, Finland and Switzerland. But the WEF rankings are based, in good measure, on surveys—polls of CEOs and the like. Other studies, using hard data, show America slipping further behind. The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation finds that in category after category—actual venture-capital funding, research and development—the U.S. has dropped well behind countries like Japan, South Korea and Sweden. The foundation measures 44 countries and regions on their efforts to improve their competitiveness over the past decade. The U.S. comes in next to last.