The New Rules: Using China to Scare Ourselves Straight

The New Rules: Using China to Scare Ourselves Straight

Judging from the accounts of virtually every pundit, the Chinese emerged as the foreign threat of choice in the just-concluded U.S. elections, with the breakthrough "Chinese Professor" ad being compared by the always-calm James Fallows to such incendiary hall-of-famers as "Daisy Girl" (1964) and "Willie Horton" (1988). I'm with Fallows: The exceedingly clever ad represents a crystallizing moment in our increasingly contentious relationship with China, elevating the Chinese far beyond Iran's mullahs and Osama Bin Laden as the pre-eminent fear-driven threat dynamic motivating calls to get our house in order.

The ad portrays a high-tech college lecture hall in Beijing, circa 2030, where a wise instructor explains to a rapt audience of China's best and brightest how the American empire, like that of the Romans and British before it, collapsed under the weight of its own debt. The gotcha moment? Under Chairman Mao's benevolent gaze, the prof notes smugly, "Of course, we owned most of their debt. So now they work for us." The class erupts in derisive snickers.

The underlying economic logic is a bit creaky, since owning "bad" debt hardly makes a creditor all-powerful, especially when the debtor owns his own printing press. But as ideological volleys go, the point scored by Citizens Against Government Waste felt like game, set and match. Even with the remake of "Red Dawn" -- this time with the Chinese replacing the Soviets and Cubans in the role of the bad guys -- stuck in MGM's bankruptcy limbo, the Chinese are on a villainous roll these days.

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