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Hullabaloo


Friday, June 03, 2005

 
Who Cares What We Think?

Matt Yglesias, blogging from his fancy new digs at the TPM Cafe, says today:

At today's Take Back America conference I saw some interesting polling data from Diane Feldman on a subject I'd pondered now and again. Unfortunately, the written summary of the presentation doesn't contain the exact numbers and I didn't write them down because I assumed this question would be included in the summary. The point, however, was that when you ask if America is "the greatest country in the world" most voters say that it is. When you ask if Democrats believe that America is the greatest country, most voters say that they do not.

I think it's clear that this perception creates some electoral problems. Indeed, it's a particularly serious kind of electoral problem because my guess is that the perception is probably correct.


It seems to me that if you are a member of the "reality based" community, as so many of us liberals claim to be, that you can't answer such a question without qualifiers. This means that we are unable to respond in appropriate knee jerk fashion and are therefore assumed to be unpatriotic. The question is simple minded and it demands a simple minded answer and that's a problem for us. Perhaps we should just lie, like everyone already does about going to church or whether they are faithful or all the other things Americans are forced to lie about in our right wing PC times.

Patriotism is defined in the dictionary quite simply as "love of one's country and a willingness to sacrifice for it." That is not the same thing as believing that your country is the greatest country in the world. I love many things in life that aren't "the greatest" and I don't see the conflict. One doesn't have to abandon all intellectual integrity to love something, imperfect and not-so-great as it may be. America is certainly the most powerful country in the world. One would think that people could be satisfied enough with that, but apparently not.

What does it mean to be the "greatest country in the world, or as I've heard it put, "the greatest country the world has ever known" anyway? Is it measured by how fair and just our system of government is or standard of living or military prowess, or what? Is it, as George W. Bush pushes incessantly, because its people are "good?" Or is it that by all measures of all things it is simply the best?

I raise this because I suspect that what people really want from liberals is not patriotism, but chauvinism, one important facet of which is characterized in this context by the belief that your national culture and interests are superior to any other. (Our vaunted "exceptionalism" is not made up of a whole lot more than that simple definition.) And, yes, some liberals do not sign on to that, for good reason. Because it's bullshit. And America, the home of mutts from all over the world, the give-me-your-tired-your-poor immigrant nation, should be more aware of the shallowness and idiocy of this than any other country in the world. It's not as if we are Germans trying to preserve the fairy tale of a thousand year Reich. It's one of the good things about not being European, with all that baggage --- or would be if we thought about it for half a minute.

Simple observation of the world shows that all nations are made up of human beings, which automatically taints the project. America and Iraq and China and everywhere else are comprised of this very flawed species. If you live long enough you see that, as much as our fearless leader likes to claim otherwise, Americans are not "better" and therefore our country is not "better." Only individual people can be judged better or worse and it is without regard to nationality, culture or religious belief.

Our democratic experiment has been a worldwide inspiration and our Bill of Rights is one of the most important contributions any nation has made to mankind. This country has welcomed immigrants (in fits and starts) from all over the world and created a wealthy, successful nation because of it. I would easily sacrifice for the country, it's my home. I love it the way anyone loves their home, with a deep and emotional connection that transcends intellectual thought. But I don't need to suspend my judgement or my faculties and further say that this country is the greatest country on earth. There is no such thing as the greatest country on earth.

Matt feels that this presents an electoral problem. I would agree if people like me were expressing these views in a political campaign. (Just call me Ward Churchill, I guess.) However, the perception that Matt talks about isn't fueled by some quasi intellectual argument about chauvinism. It's fueled by Rush Limbaugh and his band of flaming gasbags who have spent the last fifteen years saying that liberals hate America day after day.

John Kerry volunteered for Vietnam, fought bravely, and came home and devoted himself to ending what he saw as an unjust war. Meanwhile his rival George Bush spent the war drinking beer and fucking off. Yet Kerry was made out to be a coward and Bush a hero. I suspect that my candidate, Wes Clark, would have been similarly reduced to sissy status despite the fact he was a four star general. Proof of love and devotion to country is not particularly relevant --- just as what liberals really think about America is not particularly relevant.

Our political problems stem from some very deep and ongoing cultural anxieties that we need to think about and confront. What we can't do anything about is the idea that liberals tend to be more --- dare I say it --- nuanced than conservatives. It is a characteristic not a policy. We're stuck with that and we're just going to have to find a way to make it work for us.



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