I think that the fundamental problem with American culture today is over-reliance on market forces to meet needs that government ought to be meeting. There's this erroneous romantic view of the the markets, the sense in the US that markets can solve all problems and contribute to none. It used to be a far right view but it has come to be a very widespread one. I see that as the sad legacy of the Reagan Revolution, and of the Clintonian Accommodation to it. Eight years of GWB has only made it worse and a McCain presidency will be disastrous in this area, as well as many others. I certainly hope an Obama presidency will begin to turn it around.
Here's how I see it:
* Market forces lead to solutions to various problems that benefit individuals, but are detrimental to society as a whole. Cars are a great example – from an individual POV, it's great to have private transportation that's completely within your control and available at all times. From a societal POV it's terrible to have a wasteful, environmentally hostile method that kills 40,000 Americans a year. But without a government-supported railway system and federally supported municipal transportation, only very high traffic routes and very high density municipalities have the more efficient public transit, so it becomes more necessary for individuals to have cars.
* Market forces tend lead to solutions that work well in the short term but poorly in the long run - quick money rather than long investment. Areas that require long investment before they show monetary return (education, public health promotion, pure science) are neglected. Downsides of short term solutions (e.g. environmental impact of industrial activity) are not adequately considered.
* Market forces tend to favor lots of intellectual and financial resources geared towards making money out of the markets themselves, with no underlying value, rather than pouring those resources into true advances. People (very few) make money out of money rather than out of production of useful things or useful ideas. Without regulation, the making money out of money becomes more and more speculative and eventually the bottom drops out. This is as true of the current mortgage crisis as it was of the stock market crash in 1929.
* Market forces tend towards the tyranny of the economically able. The voices and needs of the poor are given short shrift, and that increases the divide between rich and poor.
* Market forces don't work to meet the needs of the society because what makes money for corporations doesn't necessarily make for happier, healthier, more fulfilled people or for a more cooperative and better functioning society.
* Market forces tend towards remedies rather than prevention often (e.g. more money can be made from treatment of complications of diabetes than from teaching health habits to avoid complications).
* Market forces tend towards monopoly rather than the "healthy competition" the market enthusiasts/romantics say they will. Without vigorous government regulation and oversight the big guys eat up the little ones and there is no healthy competition. Over-reliance on the romance of the market leads to gutting of anti-trust.
* It's in society's interest to provide basic services to all but it's not always in corporate interest. If companies providing basic services are not regulated, including the requirement that they provide to all of society, segments of the population get left out (e.g. communities that don't have banks or redlining if they do, transportation that doesn't cover areas that don't have a lot of money to pay, etc).