Tuesday, July 04, 2006

What’s So Great About America?

I have written several times about the amazing disdain that American liberals and Democrats have for their own country. Each time the feedback from the left is vitriolic: How dare I question their patriotism? Of course I was doing no such thing, merely pointing out that conservatives tend to like America as it is while libdems think it is seriously flawed. A good illustration is provided by the comparison of two opinion pieces, one from the left and one from the right.

Mark Kurlansky (lefty) in today’s la times is sick and tired of the founding fathers and all their intents. The real American question of our times is how our country in a little over 200 years sank from the great hope to the most backward democracy in the West.

I think that pretty much sums up the libdem viewpoint.

Kurlansky elaborates: America has the worst healthcare program, one of the worst public school systems and the worst benefits for workers, and the margin between rich and poor has been growing precipitously. Furthermore, we use military might less cautiously, show less respect for international law and are the stumbling block in international environmental cooperation.

And if that is not enough claptrap, he manages to find a critical sentence in Alexis de Tocqueville’s paean to America, Democracy in America. Tocqueville observed of Americans: They unceasingly harass you to extort praise and if you resist their entreaties, they fall to praising themselves.

Kurlansky fails to mention that Tocqueville came to America in the 1830s to find out why the Americans had been able to produce a stable democratic republic while efforts to do so in France had repeatedly failed. Tocqueville was the first to refer to America as exceptional -- that is qualitatively different than other countries. He attributed our national exceptionalism to what he called the American Creed – a belief system based on liberty, equality of opportunity, individualism, populism and laissez-faire. Indeed, those defining features of American exceptionalism are still alive and well today, having weathered undermining attempts by generations of socialists.

Kurlansky thinks the crux of the problem is our lack of anti-establishment thinkers who, he believes, are the only means whereby a society progresses. He praises Democrats for raising the expectation of being anti-establishment, only to have their hopes dashed by Republicans and by their own lily-livered commitment to the status quo. Apparently this anti-est lack is responsible for our having the worst healthcare program, one of the worst public school systems and the worst benefits for workers – that is, if you believe that rubish.

On the other pole is the immigrant scholar Dinesh D'Souza, Indian born but now a Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. The immigrant, says D’Sousa in The American Enterprise, cannot help noticing that America is a country where the poor live comparatively well. In the 1980s CBS broadcast an anti-Reagan documentary, "People Like Us", intending to show the miseries of the poor during an American recession. But people across the world saw that the poorest Americans had television sets and cars. I asked a friend from Bombay who had been trying to move to the United States for a decade, “Why are you so eager to come to America?” He replied, “Because I really want to live in a country where the poor people are fat.”

Given the standard of living of the ordinary American, it is no wonder that socialist schemes have never found a wide constituency in the United States. As Werner Sombart observed, all socialist utopias in America have come to grief on roast beef and apple pie. The moral triumph of America is that it has extended the benefits of comfort and affluence, traditionally enjoyed by very few, to a large segment of society.

What’s more, in the United States the social ethic is egalitarian, regardless of wealth. The American view is that the rich guy may have more money, but he isn’t in any fundamental sense better than you are.

In America your destiny is not prescribed; it is constructed. Your life is like a blank sheet of paper and you are the artist. This notion of being the architect of your own destiny is the incredibly powerful idea that is behind the worldwide appeal of America. Young people especially find the prospect of authoring their own lives irresistible.

America’s founders solved two great problems which are a source of perennial misery and conflict in many other societies—the problem of scarcity, and the problem of religious and tribal conflict. They invented a new regime in which citizens would enjoy a wide range of freedoms—economic freedom, political freedom, and freedom of speech and religion—in order to shape their own lives and pursue happiness. It is now the hope of countless millions all across the world.

So which America is reality? Is it the most backward democracy in the West (Kurlansky) or the hope of countless millions all across the world? (D'Souza) Is America the libdem’s worst nightmare or the shining city on a hill that the rest of us love?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is this a test? Easy!

the hope of countless millions all across the world? (D'Souza) and the shining city on a hill that the rest of us love.


7:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a grand ole flag...the home of the free and the brave...words from a song...and we know how we feel when we sing or say them.

I do taxes and when someone wants to become a citizen of the US they will happily pay any amount of Federal Income Tax for the privilege. I have personally witnessed this at my desk more than once.

Judy cki

9:33 AM  
Blogger fetching jen said...

The libdems are accomplished whiners but lack the cojones to act on their disdain of America - LEAVE.

And why is that?

Because there is no other country in the world where they can live the way they do (in america) all the while claiming to hate it.

10:24 AM  
Blogger gary daily said...

Does Bill really want an answer to a Kurlansky v. D'Souza question? Why? These guys are no more guides to the “reality” of America than Bill’s very un-random sample of one, the guy who sees the appeal of the United States to the world at large in our obesity problem.

As with many of us who have had the good fortune to do well in this country, mainly because of historical timing (coming of age in boom rather than lean years) and plenty of help (family, GI Bill, mentors, and especially being white and male), Bill wants to make us all into Horatio Alger types.

You know the story: Through luck and pluck we rose within the meritocracy that is America to levels of security and happiness unknown in the rest of the world, past or present. As Bill puts it: “Your life is like a blank sheet of paper and you are the artist. This notion of being the architect of your own destiny is the incredibly powerful idea that is behind the worldwide appeal of America. Young people especially find the prospect of authoring their own lives irresistible.”

Who wants to tarnish Alger myths and step on young artists of their own destiny dreams? Only most cultural and economic historians it turns out. Here’s a recent estimate injecting a note of historical authenticity into these myths and dreams from Jackson Lears, professor of history at Rutgers University and editor of the journal Raritan, author of Something for Nothing: Luck in America:

“Especially in flush times, it has not always been easy to distinguish gambling from speculation or investment, and even Horatio Alger knew that luck was as important as pluck in achieving success. The gambler, endlessly starting over with every hand of cards, has embodied the American metaphysic of reinventing the self, reawakening possibilities from one moment to the next. The gambler and the entrepreneur have been twinned. Still, it has been crucial to tell them apart. For those who believed that the American economic system was part of a providential order, the respectable businessman could never be reduced to merely a fortunate gambler.”

I fear Kurlansky and D'Souza, Bill and most of his supporters, are unwilling to see this “reality” in American life and dreams. Australia calls itself the “lucky country.” We never have. We like to think we have always created our own luck. We conveniently forget about the cushion of abundant natural resources we once held and the relatively favored and isolated position we held in the world during a century and-a-half of stupendous growth, a period when all boats truly did rise.

Today our luck is growing as thin as our natural resources; and our vaunted pluck has turned into arrogance and pride. Horatio Alger wouldn't recognize the world we live in today.

7:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Bill: Good stuff. I like D'Souza a lot. I've seen and heard him before and he is excellent.


9:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This dude Kurlansky needs to go live in Iraq. People like that disgust me!


9:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HI Bill - from Maui - having great time and return the weekend.

FYI: I sent your Blog to Senator Allen and this is his response:

Very good. The USA aspires to be a meritocracy like the NFL and sports are popular around the world because of such attributes. We have freedom of religion, expression, and a general trust in rule of law. And, importantly, we have private ownership of property which is foundation of a competitive, free enterprise system. Freedom, equal opportunity and competiveness are key to innovation and improvement in a motivated, successful civilization/country.


9:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm going with "the shining city on a hill". God bless America!!!!!


9:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rose actually said something actually interesting "This dude Kurlansky needs to go live in Iraq." YES!!! Finally the wingnuts who get their talking points from FOX news actually understand something very important...Iraq is a complete disaster and no one on earth would ever want to live there. Good job Rose! Keep the list going of those who "disgust"....we get little crumbs of wisdom.

9:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dori said "the hope of countless millions all across the world"

One question: What do you think the families of the 100000 Iraqis we killed think of the hope we bring them from our shining city on a hill?


9:28 PM  

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