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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

 
Faith-based policy and American exceptionalism
by David Atkins ("thereisnospoon")

As the Republican presidential candidates fall all over themselves to outdo the other in pushing reckless anti-government, anti-tax ideology, there is one progressive response that I've always been particularly fond of but is far too seldom used: the fact that never in the history of the modern nation state has an economy successfully operated along the lines the Tea Party envisions for America. Bill Clinton of all people made this point just recently in a meeting with bloggers:

You know, there’s not a single solitary example on the planet, not one, of a country that is succesful because the economy has triumphed over the government and choked it off and driven the tax rates to zero, driven the regulations to nonexistent and abolished all government programs, except for defense, so people in my income group never have to pay a nickel to see a cow jump over the moon. There is no example of a succesful country that looks like that.

This is one of the reasons that conservatives are so desperate to hold onto the notion of American exceptionalism: liberals have a wide of range of models from Japan to Scandinavia to prove the efficacy of various progressive solutions to America's problems. No country is perfect, of course, and solutions that work elsewhere may not work here. But as a general rule, progressives have effective examples worldwide to prove the value of our approach, whether it be in medicine, criminal justice, labor or otherwise.

Conservative approaches by contrast are a failure wherever and whenever they are tried. Theocracy inevitably leads to tyranny and despotism, whether it be the Christian theocracies of the Middle Ages or the modern theocracies of the Islamic world. Weapons-happy libertarianism ultimately ends in the sort of anarchic despotism we see in Somalia. Conservative approaches to finance, taxation and regulation lead inevitably to economic collapse, as seen in the history of basically every single country that ever even temporarily earned the "tiger" moniker from Austrian economists seeking to validate their theories.

So it's crucial for conservatives to insist that America never learn from anyone else's positive example, and that every problem in America be seen as sui generis. Faith-based policy making can only exist in an informational vacuum where real-world examples are never considered.

Progressives often lament that the conservative rhetorical construct is nearly impossible to demolish. But that's actually not true. Republican rhetoric, built as it is on a foundation of lies, is incredibly rickety when challenged in the right places. Destroy one pillar, and much of the rest of it comes tumbling down. But doing so would require taking on some taboo subjects that have been so vigorously protected by the conservative establishment as to have become sacred cows.

American exceptionalism is one of those sacred cows. It is what allows faith-based policy to exist. The notion, accepted by so much of the Democratic establishment, that we cannot even rhetorically challenge the idea that love of America means never looking abroad for ways we can improve, has to go by the wayside if we want to have a chance of taking this country back.

Of course, doing that won't happen overnight. But an easy way to lead into the argument would be to provide the negative counterexample: maybe we're not yet in a position where independent voters will pay attention to examples of solutions from around the world. But they should at least be open to the argument that Republican policies have never worked here or elsewhere, not least because it's true.


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