The hard truth about going ‘soft’
The President got flak for pointing out we’re not on top of our game. He’s right. (Getty Images)
October 6th, 2011
05:10 PM ET

The hard truth about going ‘soft’

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.

Continue reading over at TIME.


soundoff (53 Responses)
  1. j. von hettlingen

    Obama had imagination, when "he dared to say that America had gotten “soft.” Think of an apple! It's tasty and crispy when fresh, soft and saggy looking when old. An overripe apple despite reduced quality in texture and taste still retains its full nutrient content, if its skin and tissue are undamaged.

    October 6, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Reply
    • M. Earnest

      jvh, you are dead wrong. Its Obama that is soft, unqualified and immature. The proof is in the pudding as grandma used to say, and this little angry man has done his best to destry the US, but it wont work. Most Americans want to work for their money, Obama wants to provide hand-out income, it wont work. The U.S. is not soft, Democrats and ultra-liberals are soft. Dem-Lib policies have been tried this past year and the results have been a disaster.

      No Gethetruth, Bill Mahar is retarded, and if you listen to him, so are you.

      We will get a conservative government back in office next January and begin to turn things around.

      October 9, 2011 at 6:46 pm | Reply
      • Jean Sartre, Milwaukee, WI

        You should probably listen to what you Grandma said, "The proof is in the pudding."

        Isn't that right, pudding?

        October 9, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
      • Jonathan N

        Earnest,

        What Obama refuses to tell Americans is your jobs are gone. Deal with it. This country refuses to wake up to the fact that how the world works has dramatically changed in the last 10 years. Manufacturing is dying. As is assembly line work. All those people need to get off their ***es and get retrained in other fields. But that requires people to actually go back to school. Good luck in getting a baby boomer to learn to use a computer and learn how to program.
        This country is dead long term unless we dramatically shift how we work. But that requires going infront of the country and being blunt with us. And as a politician Obama won't do that. As a result the best you can get is this "soft" comment.

        October 11, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
      • Vikrim

        "Retarded"? Thanks for that intelligent contribution to the discussion. Those who can't swim shouldn't dive in at the deep end of the pool.

        October 11, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  2. Rz

    America is slipping, Europe is slipping, the Middle East is slipping. But Russia and China appear to be getting on top of their game. And it looks like they might even be teaming up. Where will that leave us?

    October 6, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Reply
    • Ted Ward

      Sometimes the country needs a good halftime coach talk. Better to say the "soft" word now than later when it's too late. Still what we don't need is a Carteresque "malaise" speech. More than anything else this country needs to get its fiscal and educational acts together, stat.

      October 10, 2011 at 7:15 pm | Reply
    • Semper Fidelis

      Nowhere comfortable is the short answer.

      The Democrats latest criminal idea is to penalise the Chinese. By taxing their goods and reducing their output these Dems want to start a Trade War!!!!! Now of all times. Are they totally insane? OR do they just want to finish off what's left of America?

      The Republicans said it's a bad idea. They're wrong. It's a suicidal idea. But the Dems have come out with monotous reliability with "Aw Mom, the party of NO is out again"

      Any half wit knows how bad it would be to start a trade war at a time of world wide recession.

      October 10, 2011 at 8:24 pm | Reply
  3. Onesmallvoice

    Yes the American people have gotten "soft" indeed if one considers being brainwashed as soft. Judging by many of these recent posts here condoning what we're doing in both Afghanistan and Iraq, it does appear indeed that most of the people have been brainwashed since anyone with any kind of moral compass would automatically know that our involvement in these obscene wars is downright wrong!!!

    October 6, 2011 at 8:16 pm | Reply
    • Cam Rankin

      While I am an Isolationist a heart and believe in making tons of money and staying out of conflict, Our country and govt does make mistakes, and we are doing our best to right the wrongs as best we can. We were attacked viciously on 9/11. In some ways we invited it (I agree with Ron Paul). I do not think sitting idly by and getting attacked some more would be the right answer. Whether the world likes it or not, if you think jihadist are fanatical, try killing Americans and stripping their liberty away, you are sure to get your people killed ....if the rest of the world hasn't figured that out yet last two hundred years, then they are the idiots!? Beat us with the pen not with the sword! God bless the USA!

      October 7, 2011 at 12:42 am | Reply
      • Semper Fidelis

        And now you're doing the exact same thing to Israel; your 'one time' friend.

        You're leaving them 7 Million of them at the mercy of 450 Million hostiles who have made their agenda very clear. And you lot object to them protecting themselves.

        But that's OK as long as you're alright ???????

        October 7, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
  4. Michelle G

    I think by "soft" he meant to say fat and lazy.

    October 6, 2011 at 9:06 pm | Reply
    • Michael Richard

      100% certain this is a comment from a jealous Canadian or a drunken slob from UK. Surely Michelle G you can't be serious when making this remark, as the US has been a dominant leader over the past century and fat and lazy people cannot provide this achievement, but am sure you are fat and ugly, thus thrusting your stupidity and anger at others. Get a life you filthy slob.

      October 13, 2011 at 5:03 am | Reply
  5. Toppolina

    People like Cantor and WSJ, Perry and Romney "follie de grandeur" is excelerating the demise of America. Wake up and smell the coffee, Americans are upset, Americans are fed-up of your lies, Americans want jobs and food on their table and roofs over their heads, that IS what Americans want NOT fake words and lies

    October 7, 2011 at 10:54 am | Reply
    • Jean Sartre, Milwaukee, WI

      I could not have said it any better... Thank U!

      October 9, 2011 at 8:43 pm | Reply
    • Gavin

      We have a binary political system. Both parties have failed the American public when it comes to jobs and putting food on the table. Time for an independant candidate to rise up and lead us out of this mess.

      October 10, 2011 at 10:38 am | Reply
  6. Lisa

    The president is right in saying what he did. You can't just say we're the greatest country and expect it to happen. We're not the greatest unless we can perform like it, and our performance is failing. The world economy is collapsing due to a pile of lies from the real-estate and banking industries. It's a domino effect because it's an interwoven global economy. And we need to work on global solutions. I love how blind republicans are because it's election season. These candidates are running like they have blinders on...all that matters it trying elected. When the real problem for this country is that we need to focus on growth for the future. We need to not only fund education but keep kids in school and focused on improving themselves. We need to focus on funding for job training for those who are currently unemployed. The unemployed are going nowhere fast because the jobs they had are not what's hiring now. If we need to transition for the future development of this country we need to fuel the education of our youth and unemployed. The big businesses that are afraid to spend their money need to spend it. Why cant Big Business invest in the government and buy bonds? This will fuel the government and in turn those businesses get a return. Why is the well-being of the country lost on republicans? They say they are for the US, but in fact their ideals seem to be working against it.

    October 7, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Reply
  7. Semper Fidelis

    If you hadn't been living beyond your means for years on borrowed money AND if Obama hadn't DOUBLED the deficit in less than 3 years, the world economic crisis wouldn't have done you so much damage.

    I don't think Obama meant that America has gone soft – truly. I reckon he's fighting the election on how HARD he is.
    Like illegally invading 2 countries [Pakistan& Yemen] to kill enemies of the State.

    May I respectfully suggest that you need a loose cannon president like a hole in the head if you don't want
    [a] to live in fear of terror attacks for years to come
    [b] lose the standing you've always had within the world community.

    Russia and China are waiting quietly in the wings!

    October 7, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Reply
    • Jean Sartre, Milwaukee, WI

      May I respectfully suggest that you need a loose cannon president like a hole in the head if you don't want
      [a] to live in fear of our own military, attempting to take over the world – Imperialism
      [b] increase our standing in the international community – we are now #4
      [c] all brought to you by the loin-cloth wearing, conservatives of the Pee Bagger/Republic Party

      Ain't it KOOL?

      October 9, 2011 at 8:53 pm | Reply
  8. joseelr

    Read up –

    Canada snags top spot on Forbes' business list

    KATHERINE SCARROW
    Globe and Mail Update
    Posted on Friday, October 7, 2011 10:21AM EDT

    The best place to do business

    As gloomy as economic times have been lately, finally some good news: Not only did the Canadian economy add 60,900 full-time jobs last month (exceeding expectations and sending the country's jobless rate two notches to 7.1 per cent) but it was also named the best place in the world to do business this week by Forbes Magazine.

    In their annual look at the 'Best Countries for Business,' Canada ranks No. 1, edging out Denmark, which topped the list in 2010.

    “While the U.S. is paralyzed by fears of a double-dip recession and Europe struggles with sovereign debt issues, Canada’s economy has held up better than most. The $1.6-trillion economy is the ninth biggest in the world and grew 3.1 per cent last year. It is expected to expand 2.4 per cent in 2011, according to the Royal Bank of Canada,” writes Kurt Badenhausen from Forbes.

    Unlike many countries, Canada avoided the brunt of the banking crisis that brought U.S. and Europe to their knees. Also, our banks avoided bailouts and were actually profitable during the financial crises that started in 2007. The country emerged one of the strongest in the world thanks to their conservative lending practices, the editors explain in this video.

    The team at Forbes looked at 11 different factors for 134 countries, including property rights, innovation, taxes, technology, corruption, freedom (personal, trade and monetary), red tape, investor protection and stock market performance. They relied on on research and published reports from the Central Intelligence Agency, Freedom House, Heritage Foundation, Property Rights Alliance, Transparency International, the World Bank and World Economic Forum to compile the rankings.

    October 8, 2011 at 11:38 am | Reply
    • myshko54

      You forgot to mention that Canada has a single-payer government health care that covers 100% at half the per capita US cost. Canada has effective government controls on predatory business practices..and a $10 per hour minimum wage which, with health care thrown in is effectively $12-$13. Higher home ownership rates, high government supported post-secondary education..and good retirement. As a 'dual citizen', I cannot help but be proud of Canada while trying to convince my fellow Americans that charity beginning at home is NOT charity but an investment in our future. Our President and Congress should take a lesson.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:48 am | Reply
    • Semper Fidelis

      I moved to Canada 4 years ago. Best move I ever made. You both forgot to mention the Canadian people. They are the most polite, friendly and genuine people anywhere. Canada, eh!

      October 10, 2011 at 8:34 pm | Reply
    • mart

      The difference is Canadians dont go around saying we are the greatest country in the world and expect it to be true we just are doing the things that make living here great. Actions do speak louder than words

      October 11, 2011 at 8:09 am | Reply
  9. Roger

    You can say there is a crisis in education ~ heck, we've known about this for years; but connect the dots please. When companies outsource/offshore all jobs that make north of x – and use illegal immigrants to fill in the low-wage areas; what are we to do? Yes education has been in a tail-spin, but you have to ask: "If I was aspiring to be a/an engineer – what are my chances at gainful employ?"

    October 8, 2011 at 9:45 pm | Reply
    • Jean Sartre, Milwaukee, WI

      Probably very good, IF you are willing to travel or relocate.

      I'm an Engineer and I have no problem at all getting employment, both in the US and in Europe. I will tell you, clearly, the wages and benefits are truly astounding for a "Good Engineer" in Europe.

      By contrast, just to give you a sense of what you are looking at: GE was hiring Master Level Engineers from India at a salary of 45k and very meager benefits... the majority of companies I've worked for in the US or applied for in the US are really telling the American Applicant: We want slave labor and we can replace you with someone from India, China or other Asian countries in a heartbeat.

      Something to think about as you pursue you educational goals...

      October 9, 2011 at 9:08 pm | Reply
  10. Carlos Soto Turver

    What if each state were to design and build from scratch a new city. The government donates the land and the private sector invests, designs and builds. How many jobs would be created?

    October 9, 2011 at 10:38 am | Reply
  11. Freddie Stanleta, Seattle

    America "going soft"?...We have BEEN SOFT for the past decade! ...and the Republican conservatives have led us there...who are they to be pointing fault at Obama? ...it was Congress, not Obama alone who reviewed and authorized the bailouts! They who point must remember...point one finger forward, and three are pointing back at you. Oh by the way...Michelle Bachman, I see disagreement between your words and your misguided positing. You are NOT believable!

    October 9, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Reply
  12. Gary

    If we are soft anywhere, it is in being a patsy for countries like China who have been allowed into the WTO and have their own rules. To be hard, we should impose tariffs on Chinese made goods (which used to be made in the U.S. with U.S. jobs) of about 300 percent and the same applies to all outsourcing, offshoring, and H1B's and Green Card IT in the U.S. impose a 300 percent tariff for U.S. worker retraining for every job that is offshored, outsourced, or contracted out to Indian, Mexican, Costa Rican, and other country IT, Engineers, etc. This is how to be tough, U.S. companies that use Global as an excuse to eliminate U.S. jobs and even have U.S. employees be demeaned by having them lose their jobs and train offshore, non-U.S. citizen replacements should be penalized 300 percent of the lost wages for 3-5 years.

    October 9, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Reply
  13. Evinia Bruce

    as a Canadian ..don't mind if we gloat ,..BIG TIME !!..at all those ignorant imbicilic Tea-Baggers who screamed .." we don't want to be like those SOCIALIST Canadians !![health care ].and to be fair ,most of the general brain-washed American public ..who wouldn't know the definition of socialsim if it bit them in the ass....up here we view the collapse of the US economy and the entire HUGE mess ..unemployment,
    infrastructure falling apart, religious bigotry,education 17th,....with little sympathy ,there is an over-all sentiment ..Americans deserve what they voted for ...Ignorance,hatred.war-mongering,American "exceptionalsim"???????in what???
    stupidity?? gullability?? so enjoy!! .
    p .s. and guess what? terorists don't hate us for our "freedoms" ..i wonder why????

    October 9, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Reply
    • Jean Sartre, Milwaukee, WI

      I do so love it when someone really, well, just NAILS IT!

      October 9, 2011 at 9:20 pm | Reply
    • Ted Ward

      Terrorists don't hate Canadians, they love them for being able to cross into the US easily on nine-eleven. It must be nice to be protected by the big American ape next door who has to take all the crap in the world and then actually do the dirty work of doing something about it...

      October 10, 2011 at 7:34 pm | Reply
      • mart

        If I recall were not most the 9-11 terrosist already in the US taking flight lessons at US flight schools on US work visa.

        October 11, 2011 at 8:14 am |
    • Semper Fidelis

      @Ted – who are you going to blame next time? You've got a whole brace of home-grown terrorists living in America right now, just waiting.................and you know it.

      If YOU don't know who they are and they could be living next door, HOW in the name of the seven snotty orphans would the Canadians have known?????????

      October 10, 2011 at 8:40 pm | Reply
    • 4Canada

      @Evinia: Altough I agree that the Tea Party is an absurd construct an detrimental for the well-being of the US, we -as Canadians- need to be careful on how we thread here. The US may have problems of epic proportions, but Canada does more than 80% of its business with Americans. We have a very real and distinct interest in ensuring that they pull through. Note that I used the expression Americans. I do distinguish between government and people.

      @Ted Ward: What about the war criminals who invaded Irak, are they terrorists? They are homegrown... This is so easy...

      October 12, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Reply
  14. Gethetruth

    America is going "soft " ? Fat people are "soft" people and we have plenty of "fat and soft" people. So what is there to be surprised about. "We are fat, lazy. loud and stupid." that's what Bill Mahar said in his moment of zen !!!

    October 9, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Reply
  15. Someone

    I find it odd that people who are busy slamming Obama offer no good alternative other than to cut spending and vote for Ron Paul.

    The situation we are seeing now is the culmination of trends that have been going on for years. As an example, during the eighties there was a great deal of discussion of how the US was transforming itself into a service economy. The term may actually date back to the late sixties. In the service economy, money is made by providing services rather than creating tangible wealth. What we are now seeing is the extreme end of that trend, where we have wiped out what little of our industrial sector is left and replaced it with largely low paying jobs.

    Add to that the Wall Street mantra of "the company is being run for the benefit of the shareholders". You hear that a lot. Companies are only concerned about maximizing quarterly profit rather than sustainability in the marketplace. The trend is starting to catch up with us. Kodak, for example, failed to invest enough in the digital area, assuming film would be their mainstay for all time. Now they are stuck and sinking fast. They have a line of low end cameras – this is being squeezed by cameras on phones.

    US companies no longer make technologies that cause paradigm shifts (there are exceptions, like Apple for example). Instead, they marginally improve current products. The companies no longer have the will to take on high risk, low possibility of return projects. That has fallen to the government. Now the government is trying to provide services to the citizens, without which we'd see our social fabric fall apart. Look at history – we have a situation similar to pre-WWII Germany in many ways. Unless people have basic necessities provided, we are ripe for a massive social upheaval.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:36 pm | Reply
    • Semper Fidelis

      If the Democrats go through with their latest suicide bid Bill by starting a trade war with China – you have good reason to worry.
      Who in their right mind would start a trade war during a world recession???????? The Democrats, that's who!

      And their supporters have all rushed out of the woodwork screamimg about the PARTY OF NO because the Republicans have said it is a BAD idea. Anyone with half a wit KNOWS it's the worst possible idea. Give me strength.

      October 10, 2011 at 8:47 pm | Reply
    • marilyn

      you can also add Regan's ridiculous notion that 'the trickle down effect' is the way an economy should run!! He might have been a good actor, but he was NO economist. The Republicans think they can offer that along with cutting taxes as a response to this Recession. They had Bush in office for 8 years and they have their sticky little fingers all over this economic mess. How could anyone in their right mind think they have a solution??

      October 12, 2011 at 5:31 pm | Reply
  16. T klimchuk

    All empirers raise and fall America is no difference How does that commercial go for mutural funds past performance is no guarrantee of future earnnings

    October 10, 2011 at 3:35 am | Reply
  17. capnmike

    “America is the greatest nation in the world,” Cantor declared. Oh yes? in what? Per capita income? NOPE! Education level? NOPE! Health and longevity? NOPE! Safety and Security? NOPE! The list goes on and on....seems the only thing America is great at any more is ARROGANCE! Cantor is just spouting the usual nationalistic baloney loved by his crooked buddies to get everybody cranked up so we forget about how the US has fallen by the wayside.

    October 11, 2011 at 5:31 pm | Reply
  18. Littleblueleaf

    It is 'moneyed' politics that get the president and the politicians elected that is poisoning this country. Join Occupy Wall Street!

    October 12, 2011 at 1:11 am | Reply
  19. Chris

    Correction. "America WAS the greatest nation in the world". That time has come and gone. Denial of this simple fact is why America and Americans will not recover. You have to first admit that you have a problem before you can correct it. As long as Americans wave the flag and pretend to be the "greatest nation in the world", they will continue to slip into oblivion. American is most certainly not the greatest nation in the world, in fact Its not even in the top 10 anymore.

    October 12, 2011 at 2:32 am | Reply
  20. Insider

    Who cares if the U.S is getting soft? Will it be better for the world if it were hard? All of the developed world is suffering due to the economic disaster that was largely brought on by the big banks and big corporate money. Who could are less if the U.S, Russia or whomever is getting soft? People will change the system if the big ones don't do something soon for the masses from which the got rich in the first place.

    October 12, 2011 at 8:46 am | Reply
  21. Insider

    They*

    October 12, 2011 at 8:47 am | Reply
  22. Josh

    Susan Malveaux and Aron Burnett are not journalist, they are merely puppet cue card reader.

    October 12, 2011 at 11:49 am | Reply
  23. Don

    Obama did not double the debt in 4 years. He put on the books 2 wars that Bush didn't pay for and spent 1 trillion on a stimulus (with the approval of the Republicans) to keep us out of the next depression. Considering that the stimulus actually Made Money for the government (except for the TARP program) That is not a bad days work. The party of no is insuring that we get just that. No recovery, no Debt reduction, no new taxes, and no hope for the future.

    October 13, 2011 at 8:37 am | Reply
  24. Brazil123

    Obama simply received America the way it is today. Do you remember when Clinton was the president? USA was the "superpower", "superdemocracy", "super-everything"... Today it is a broken state, with no ideological power.

    October 13, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Reply
  25. WeatheringTheStorm

    Well, of course America has gotten soft. We are certainly not where we should be. We are dealing with a global recession that was initated because many people have failed to use their money responsibly. We are still in the War on Terror, which public opinion has clearly taken a turn for the worst. Pretty much every aspect of our society is slipping. We need a leader who can keep us out of unnecessary wars, rebulid our infrastructure, create jobs, pull us out of a recession and get this nation moving on the right track again. Obama seems to be trying to do just that, but his policies haven't been very effective. Unless Obama or some other Democratic candidate steps up to the plate, a Republican will most certainly win, which will be, no doubt, disasterous for this country – unless, if Gary Johnson wins; He is the only candidate in the 2012 election that I actually support. C'mon Democrats, get in the game!

    October 13, 2011 at 9:45 pm | Reply
  26. Kweg Yung

    Corporate America's expansion into China was paid for by the American taxpayer. Bush's “tax cuts for the rich” policy helped to fund this transition. That's why no American jobs were created but a lot of Chinese jobs were. Republican politicians represent the corporate rich, the 'job creators'. When was the last time you saw a job created in the U.S.? The rich don't pay tax in this country and their corporations are physically based in communist China; where, by the way, SOCIALIZED healthcare and SOCIALIZED education are the norm and ALL the banks are state owned. These former American companies only pay tax in China, supporting a growing communist government and military. Republican politicians sold us (U.S.) out. These guys aren't batting for us (U.S.) anymore.

    October 13, 2011 at 10:17 pm | Reply
  27. MichaelMRW

    America is not going soft! The people are just now understanding the rules have changed and we will have to use new tactics. First understand US Corporation have no allegiance to the American people or our Government, only to their stockholders. If sending jobs overseas saves money they will do so even if it kills the goose that laid the golden egg. Our Government should start inviting foreign businesses to open mfg plants here and allow breaks if they do. Siemens is just as good to do business with as GE. Make em compete!

    October 14, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Reply
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