Stop Thinking You're So Great

If you've wondered what could have prompted Obama's worldwide apology tour, or gave the Nobel Committee impetus to award him the Prize, look no further than this Boston Globe op-ed: One nation, under illusion.
THE HOARIEST and most oft-repeated cliche in American politics may be that America is the greatest country in the world. Every politician, Democrat and Republican, seems duty bound to pander to this idea of American exceptionalism, and woe unto him who hints otherwise. ... As if this weren’t enough, Jimmy Carter upped the fawning ante 30 years ago by uttering arguably the most damning words in modern American politics. He called for a "government as good as the American people," thus taking national greatness and investing it in each and every one of us.

... The fact of the matter is that whenever anything really significant has been accomplished by our government, it is precisely because it was better than the American people.
The columnist, Neal Gabler, has laid it out pretty clearly right there. "Who the hell are we to think we're great?" he asks, and then says that the only "significant" accomplishments of the government have come in spite of the American people. To his credit, he seems to get that he's operating under a very specific value system and that he's using it to decide what "great" means. He asks, "By what standard is one nation any greater than any other nation?"

He displays his standard of value in the examples he lists. Gabler faults the US for income inequality, citing the egalitarian Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. He cites the UN's "Human Development Index" which lists the American standard of living 15th behind that of the welfare states of Europe. He refers to the WHO's "quality of care" rankings which listed US health care 37th. (To which Richard Ralston said, "When you hear this, always ask, 'Ranked by whom and how?' ")

Gabler's standard of value is quite obviously the same as that of UN and all the organizations he cites: altruism-fueled egalitarianism and cultural relativism. When he asks "By what standard is one nation any greater than any other nation?" he's not looking for an answer. He's implying that it is impossible for one nation to be any better than another. Well, except that the US is actually worse because its welfare programs aren't up to snuff, but let's not split hairs. Still, he assures us, he's not saying that America is bad, per se:
The point of all this isn’t that America doesn’t have a lot to be proud of. It does. The point is that just about every country has a lot to be proud of, and America has no more right to assume it is the greatest nation in the world than does France, Switzerland, China, or Russia. [bold added]
China? Russia? Really?

As I alluded to earlier, this view is exactly why Obama has the Nobel Peace Prize. This is why he felt compelled to take a Global Apology Tour. He and Gabler firmly believe that America has no right to think itself better than proto-dictatorial Russia, dictatorial China, or theocratic-totalitarian Iran.

I've said it before, and will keep repeating it because it's unassailably right: the only criteria by which to judge a government is the extent to which it protects individual rights. In this light, all of Gabler's conclusions are completely wrong. Despite the fact that people like him and Obama are trying their damnedest to drag the country into European welfare statism, America is still the freest, most moral, greatest country in existence. It is not "arrogance", "hubris", or "overweening pride," as Gabler called it, but a cold, rational statement of moral judgment.

But because of our hubris, Gabler is concerned that the Gods will visit their wrath on us:
A nation that brooks no criticism, a nation that feels it is always better than any other, a nation that has to be endlessly flattered and won’t face the truth, a nation whose people think they possess some special moral exemption and wisdom, a nation without humility is a nation spoiling for calamity.
He's right that we're headed in the wrong direction, spoiling for calamity. What he doesn't understand (or is evading) is that it is precisely the ideas he champions that are leading us there.


Doug Reich said...

Great post.

Very frustrating but so typical of the left. Isn't it amazing that these guys think we are falling apart because of too little government intervention?

Under their moral code of altruism, anything that benefits you is bad and anything that hurts you is good. Similarly, he holds all that ruins America to be good and all that is good for America to be bad.

C. August said...

Isn't it amazing that these guys think we are falling apart because of too little government intervention?

This comment reminded me that ever since I looked more in-depth into Hobbes, I've been seeing his influences everywhere.

Much of Gabler's problem with the fact that American politicians tout the greatness of America is that he sees the government as the only significant positive force, one which operates in spite of the nasty, brutish, and "selfish" American people. Here's what I think he'd say if he let his Hobbes Flag fly in all it's glory:

"Left to their own devices, Americans would beat each other to death with sticks, lob bombs at innocent countries, step over dead bodies to get to NASCAR races, and scheme to satisfy their nasty, base desires. Only the all-powerful government keeps them from a war of all against all, and channels their animal instincts toward the greater good. That's why I urge you to vote for Levi A. Than for Dictator For Life!"

Hobbesian ideas are kind of like Marxist ideas; I can't for the life of me figure out why they haven't died out. They're so wrong on so many levels, and laissez-faire capitalism, individual rights, and Rand's metaphysical and moral arguments (just to mention a few things) disprove them so completely... why are they still so damn prominent? (This is a rhetorical question. Immensely frustrated, but rhetorical.)

Lynne said...

I read the op-ed on Tuesday morning, felt a little sick, and clicked away from it, but not before I found SmallState: a commenter whose approach, style, and thoughts I appreciate and recommend.

C. August said...

Yeah, I was thinking of mentioning his comments. Methinks he has read Ayn Rand, considering that he called the current mixed economy an "aristocracy of pull"...