It was a statement of such unqualified certainty that Jeb Bush made it pretty much in passing, as if it required no elaboration, accommodated no dissent and was the obvious starting point from which all political discussion should flow.
"We're in decline," he said. Boom. Just like that. Meaning America. And suggesting that other D words - dip, downturn, even depression - didn't sufficiently reflect reality, perhaps because they connote temporary fluctuations instead of an inexorable arc.
Bush, the former governor of Florida, was speaking Monday morning to journalists at a Bloomberg View breakfast in New York, and he was displaying the kind of candor you seldom get from someone still in, or angling for, elective office.
He almost certainly doesn't harbor any secret desire to be the Republicans' vice presidential nominee. If he did, he wouldn't have slammed the no-compromises orthodoxies of his own party. (He added that Democrats are comparably rigid.) He wouldn't have spoken up for the occasional wisdom of tax increases or for an approach to immigration more progressive than the one Mitt Romney has proposed.
And he wouldn't have rendered such an unequivocal verdict on the country's situation.
"We're in very difficult times right now, very different times than we've been," he told us, sounding at first like any other politician, then segueing to a darker place. "We're in decline." He added that "that distinguishes us - where we are" from past moments in history.
I can't imagine Romney or President Barack Obama uttering a statement so unforgiving. But I do get the sense that they, along with much of the electorate, feel at least somewhat the same way.
And I think that Bush opened a window into the most striking aspect of the 2012 presidential election: the degree to which pessimism has supplanted optimism in a country usually inclined toward the latter and predisposed toward politicians fluent in the language of uplift.
Where's the uplift this time around?
Romney's not deft at it, and is largely content to frame the entire contest in terms of Obama's economic stewardship and whether voters dare wager four more years on it. That approach preys on anxiety more than it plays to aspirations, and some of his fellow Republicans rightly question the wisdom of it.
"I don't think we win if it's just about a referendum on Barack Obama," Scott Walker, the Wisconsin governor, said on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday. He articulated the wish that Romney "goes big and he goes bold" from here on out.
On "Fox News Sunday," Mitch Daniels, the Indiana governor, said: "The American people, I think, will rightly demand to know something more than he's not President Obama. He better have an affirmative, constructive message, one of hope."
Meanwhile, the president finds himself mired in a tedious, dispiriting back-and-forth. Romney charges that the economy is worse than Obama is willing to acknowledge; Obama says it's not as bad as Romney maintains and a whole lot better than it might have been.
They squabble over pejoratives. They tussle over gradations of distress. And while they pay too little attention to grand visions, their aides work overtime on gaffe patrol. Pettiness is pessimism's flower.
Both Obama and Romney are held back by budgetary and political dynamics that stand in the way of many sweeping initiatives. And both understand that there are very real limits to America's agency in its own short-term economic fate, limits that Jeb Bush, liberated from the calculations of a candidacy, described bluntly Monday morning.
"I think we're in a period here for the next year of pretty slow growth," he said. "I don't see how we get out, notwithstanding who's president."
Right now there's a haplessness to the country's station. Combine the size of our debt with the scope of our problems and it's hard not to conclude that we've turned some corner or hit some inflection point or arrived at some crossroads: Choose your phrase. It's definitely not morning in America.
And no one should lie to us about that. We're in these dusky straits because we ignored hard truths.
But a certain measure of optimism isn't foolish. It sustains and rallies people. It charts the path toward solutions. It's what a leader must find and persuasively project. And there's a scary dearth of it in this campaign.