The old American dream was before instant gratification. When we still believed a penny saved was a penny earned.
When we started funding our lifestyles with credit cards and other forms of debt -- and this began longer then eight years ago -- there were only a few ways to sustain that behavior. Either productivity or asset values had to continually rise. Productivity levels were zooming for awhile, so businesses didn't have to raise prices or lower wages, we were okay, but they had to level off eventually. Growing economies around the world pumped money in to support our debts. Stock values too made us feel rich back in the 90's, and when they went down, the fed took interest rates way down and home values shot up. We all know what happened from there.
But there're no more magic bullets. The fed has spent all its ammo. The President can't call on the people to spend our way out of this mess. We are going to be forced to do what we should have done awhile ago. But we're going to have to do it under more pressure, with more risk and at a much more accelerated pace than had we acknowledged it sooner.