Reflecting on the meaning of July Fourth, I joined millions wondering how we found ourselves in national crisis. Only a decade ago, it seemed that America was at a pinnacle and still rising. Aside from a few grumbles in Moscow, Beijing and Paris, the world seemed happy to accept a “unipolar” world, led (gently) by a consensus-seeking but also overwhelmingly powerful Pax Americana. Our alliances and popularity (the underpinnings of real international strength) were unsurpassed. Our technology, economy, finances and science, appeared unparalleled.
Even from a conservative perspective, it took real contortions to find things to get vexed about, during the 1990s. (Though that did not keep the lurid, livid rationalizations from flowing).
Military readiness was at an all-time high. (Every US Army brigade was prepared to defend us... vs. none (zero) today.) The economy boomed, small business startups surged as never before, deficits turned into surpluses, crime plummeted along with teen pregnancy rates, secrecy declined and the government’s share of GDP dropped, for the first time since the Great Depression. Note that all of the examples that I chose should appeal to conservatives -- that is, those who aren't hypocrites.
Moreover, after a century in which our triumphs - over fascism, communism, racism, outer space and our own inner devils - seemed so vast compared to our (also extravagant) mistakes, it seemed that America held a high and near permanent status on the world's moral high ground. If patriotism is more than just a reflexive rush of righteous hormones, chanting worshipfully at your tribal totem, then it flourishes best when your country is truly different. When it stands for something new and powerful for good.
How things change in a few short years. Our status as unquestioned leader of a unipolar world is shriveled to the point of ridicule. Our strengths have been spent and frittered. Worst of all, here in Phase Three of the U.S. Civil War, there now appear to be two Americas and one of them wallows in deep denial that their beloved cause has wrought all this terrible harm. The “red” half nods, entranced, as Sean Hannity stakes his outrageous personal claim as ultimate arbiter of patriotism - by waving the flag harder and louder than anybody else - while he continues aiding and abetting those who have betrayed the republic far more than Benedict Arnold ever did.
Fortunately, there are better voices, urging a more mature version of patriotism. Columnist Robert Scheer offers the following excerpt from Washington's "Farewell Address" - a declaration of our first president’s high expectations for a republic of free men:
"In offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels of an old and affectionate friend, I dare not hope they will make the strong and lasting impression I could wish; that they will control the usual current of the passions, or prevent our nation from running the course which has hitherto marked the destiny of nations. But, if I may even flatter myself, that they may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good; that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism. ..."
(Looking at actual effects of the Iraq Imbroglio, one sees a better case for the use of “emergency” overrides so that multi-billion dollar, no-bid crony contracts could be handed over to Bush friends for “war zone services” by Halliburton, KBR, Blackwater, etc, making the old Military Industrial Complex (Boeing etc) look like absolute angels, by comparison. One could get even more paranoid by tallying the actual results of this insane adventure - all converging upon the demolition of Pax Americana, the one thing the neocons claimed to be fighting for! Why do even opponents of the Bushite Cabal reflexively refuse to consider the parsimonious explanation? That results, so relentlessly and consistently achieved, might have been the aim, all along?)
Of even greater resonance and importance, at this point, is Barack Obama’s speech about this matter, on June 30.
It is a deeply articulate, passionate and yet intelligently nuanced essay that we all ought to read, even opponents, so that we can get some of the measure of this man.
This line was special: "For a young man of mixed race, without firm anchor in any particular community, without even a father's steadying hand, it is this essential American idea – that we are not constrained by the accident of birth but can make of our lives what we will – that has defined my life, just as it has defined the life of so many other Americans."
Oh, and later on, amid many fine insights, he speaks for those of us who remember the future, when he calls for rediscovering our role as a scientific nation. It is the first time I have heard any candidate in this election cycle refer to science unsolicited. (Along these lines, see “Questions For the Candidates About Science and America’s Future.”)
Do read it all the way through. I still have many questions about him. But this is an unusual fellow.
Obama and States Rights.
I’ve made a habit of offering jiu jitsu moves that Barack Obama and the democrats might use to shatter the standard, partisan strawmen that Fox-Rove&co have used, to foment Culture War. (And some of my suggestions would do good, even if they were used, effectively, by John McCain!) The “Stipulation Gambit” -- and a vow to Honor the Losers -- would surprise and woo many fence-sitters, while transforming American politics forever.
Obama has already shown a level of agility that bodes well Now another suggestion -- that he should embrace States Rights as an important modern cause. Dave Rickey wrote in to say: “We all know that only Nixon could go to China’. So if Obama stood up and made an honest appeal for "State's Rights," against the wave of federal power-usurpation by the Cheney Cabal, it would have special resonance.”
With jiu jitsu in mind, think about States Rights. The term carries an old-timey feel of connection to Dixiecrats fighting for Jim Crow, so nobody uses it anymore. But that makes the term available, to be snatched up by a new and agile leader! Imagine how it would rock back those who assume one pattern “typical” of liberalism, for the liberal standard bearer to demand a good version of states rights... one that will allow innovative regions like California to pursue paths toward energy independence, environmentalism, health reform, and so on, without being bludgeoned by a heavy-handed presidency. Could anything better show Obama’s contrast vs a power-mad imperial Bush Cabal, that has betrayed everything decent conservatism ought to stand for?
Obama did something similar when he said he would seek a reform of the U.S. tax code if elected in November, saying the current tax system is a "10,000-page monstrosity." But that promise lacks power simply because it has been made so many times before. (In fact though, I have a simple way that the tax code could be trimmed by 70% without much political pain or obstructionism! It is a method that is mostly politically neutral, gores very few sacred cows, is cheap and easy to implement, and is almost guaranteed to work! Yet, to the best of my knowledge it has never been tried, or even proposed! Alas.)
---See also: American Exceptionalism vs What has Made America Exceptional
Final Note: osama bin laden: mission accomplished?
''[Osama bin Laden] said at one point that he wants oil to be $144 a barrel'' -- about six times what it sells for now." Roger Diwan, a managing director, Petroleum Finance Company, New York Times October 14, 2001
Ten years ago, back in the awful Clinton years, the price of a barrel of oil was just $11. Heading into this holiday weekend, the price of a barrel of oil rested at $144 — a thirteen-fold increase.