For the third time in my lifetime, a storm of revulsion against foreign investment in the United States is beginning to gather. Only this time the clouds appear much more ominous.
The first episode, dating to my childhood, came a few years after OPEC flexed its muscles in the 1973 oil embargo. The Saudis and others started using their petrodollars to buy up U.S. assets here and there, generating a fair degree of Arab-bashing at the time. It even served as fodder for the rants of the fictional anchorman Howard Beale in Network — a great movie in its own right, and an excellent moment-in-time capturing the zeitgeist of helplessness in post-Vietnam, post-Watergate America. A few years later, OPEC lost all its pricing power as oil was back to nearly $10 a barrel and the storm passed.
The second episode came in the 80s, when Japanese investors started snapping up U.S. commercial real estate, including Rockefeller Center. Time magazine, still sort of relevant in that pre-Internet era, captured the moment with a quote from freshman Senator Joe Lieberman (one must imagine him saying this in his voice for the full effect): "This year when they turn on the lights of that Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center, we Americans are going to have to come to grips with the reality that this great national celebration is actually occurring on Japanese property." The following year, Japan entered its recession-in-perpetuity and Rockefeller Center was back in U.S. hands by 1995.
This time the "assault" is coming not from Arabs, not from the Japanese… but from everyone. And that's what could make the backlash so ugly. America against the world.
Look at just the last two days: Arabs buying the Chrysler Building (never mind that it was already owned by the German subsidiary of an Atlanta-based fund, making its American provenance rather dubious to begin with), and today Europeans are bidding for Budweiser maker Anheuser-Busch. The outraged flag-waving is underway.
Americans will not want to hear that all this is their own fault, borrowing and spending on both a personal and governmental level to a point where they can't help but be in hock to the rest of the world, while the rest of the world seeks real assets to take the place of its increasingly-worthless dollars.
So not only are we heading for a financial storm and an energy storm, but also very likely a storm of ugly jingoism that will only accentuate and accelerate America's pariah-state status. The phenomena might very well feed on each other. (And depending on when it reaches critical mass, it could even prove a decisive factor in the presidential election.) Soon the rest of the world could be as repulsed by the American people as it is by the U.S. government — as our Founders weep in their graves for the Republic that's been lost.
Update: While not exactly a case of "furriners" buying up "Merkin" assets, this is definitely in the same vein — a growing legend that the dastardly Chinese are drilling for oil off Cuba, despite not a drop of evidence to back it up. Memo to Dick Cheney and everyone else peddling this nonsense: If you stopped sucking up to the Cuba Lobby and recognize that if the embargo hasn't worked by now it never will, your friends at Big Oil might be drilling those reserves right now.