Yes, I remember hearing that somewhere. And it seems to be the theme of foreign critics, who can only bring themselves to admit America's greatness when they want something from us (which they lack the greatness to do themselves). Foreign nations have been sharply critical of the U.S. for putting their delicate nerves in a flutter with our down-to-the-wire debate over the debt-ceiling. That cuddly Russian dictator Vladimir Putin went so far as to call Americans "parasites" on the global economy "living beyond their means and shifting a part of the weight of their problems to the world economy."
It seldom occurs to foreigners that we have great power precisely because we don't act as they act. Europeans have plenty of fiscal beams in their own eyes to divert them from the speck in ours. And yet, uncomfortable as it is for me to agree with a Russian, Putin is partially correct. America has been living beyond its means and, as a result, has been a drag on the global economy.
But Putin misses the fundamental point that it was precisely a battle to reject ruinous, European-style, beyond-our-means spending which just occurred in the American Congress - and, for the most part, the fiscally-responsible Republicans were victorious. While foreigners are relieved that Republicans will not cause America to default on its fiscal obligations, they fail to appreciate the broader and more important point that Republicans just forced the nation to take a small, first-step toward avoiding the bankruptcy and default endemic to Europe.
Long ago, Europeans lost the stomach for conflict - militarily, socially and politically. America has just concluded an important battle in a larger war of political philosophy. It was ugly and uncertain, but worth fighting. We recognized the potential consequences of a prolonged conflict and so sued for peace before the sun had fully set. That is, we waged war while observing responsible rules of engagement.
As the powerful American economy controls the temperament of the global economy, Europeans may be expected to protest when American strife sweeps the economic seas into a tempest and causes them fright. But they fail to understand that it is precisely this continuing civil conflict which has sustained our great power and preserved us from becoming like them.