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November 19, 2008

Comments

I don't agree that being beholden to its 'oogedy-boogedy branch' is the only thing which ails the GOP, but... her description of said branch, while snooty (she is from the Snooty Branch), is basically right. And it is definitely a big problem for the party, because for every Huckabee there are 100 Palins.

Hey! Me and my wooden crate resent that remark.

It reads - distinctly - as if it was written drunk.

Which I don't mean as an insult to Parker - and definitely not as disagreement with the column.

Shorter Katherine Parker:

The GOP lost again. Whelp, first order of business - NOT MY FAULT! Second order of business - YOU DID IT! Work's done here. Meeting adjourned.

I wonder if any of the problems of the Republican Party can be blamed on people who like to distinguish certain groups as not being "full-blooded Americans"?

I should add that I disagree with Katherine hugely. The only reason '08 wasn't an even bigger blowout was because of the reliable fundie support. The loyal religious voters turned out to the polls in the belief that John McCain (unlike Bush 2 and Bush 1 and Saint Reagen and Brave Sir Ford and Poor Martyred Nixon) would finally outlaw abortion and bring Jesus back into the heart of America.

They are the party base. Without the religious right who the hell is going to vote for your ridiculously lopsided tax cuts or your draconian deregulation and privatization schemes? You can't win elections catering purely to the 1% of the electorate in your tax bracket.

Notice the Republican strongholds. Rural high elderly, low ethnicity-mix, deeply religious sectors of the map. You're not fooling people in down town NYC or even down town Houston to keep funneling votes your way because they can do the math. McCain's $80 / year tax cut wasn't doing it for them. His shitty energy policy and non-existent health care plan didn't inspire confidence. But if you are going to run on big tax breaks for the rich, "drill baby drill" energy policy, and a "fuck you" health care plan, you absolutely NEED the fundie base. There is no alternative. No other constituency will vote for you.

It's either embrace the base or quit being a corporate conservative.

Begun, the Clone War has.

"It reads - distinctly - as if it was written drunk."

I was thinking exactly the same thing. Guess I'm not crazy.

I have a feeling that she will privately regret the delivery, if not the substance. Portraying herself as a martyr will be especially unconvincing to conservatives.

Another worthwhile quote from Parker's article: "[the Republican Party may] die out unless religion is returned to the privacy of one's heart where it belongs."

______

When your putative 'idea guy' is Newt Gingrich, and his idea is to flog the - let's face it, perfectly fascist - notion that your extremely religious country is in grave danger due to a bristling 'gay and secular fascism', I'd say you are in big trouble (either that, or the country is). Newt's reptillian instincts are right that Fear is more motivating than other available pitches right now. But the GOP already has the hardcore Fear/Resentment Vote locked up.

The GOP as we know it is going to die out no matter what. The whole has been greater than the sum of its parts. And it isn't just the Christianist, er, qaeda that's a problem; all the ideologues, the fuel of the modern GOP, are a problem. I'd say that, going forward, the Norquistian economic model, standing more on its own, will be even less popular than the religious right wingery.

Yglesias and others have said that if the dems don't deliver, then the GOP will regain ground, and of course that's right (true even if dems *do* deliver, somewhat), since there are only two parties. But they won't be 'back' - that is, in their erstwhile form. And BTW, a talented religious pol like Huckabee is probably going to be more effective in 4 or 8 years than someone running on corporatist-libertarian planks (as McCain sort of did). No one knows what's going happen to our economy, but I have a feeling that the latter are going to be enduringly unpopular.

Break the coalition apart, and what do you have? Weak parts. Take away the fundamentalism, the insurgent-MO, and you don't have much left. I think Parker is wish-fulfilling as much as analyzing here. It's not just the religious right that's the electoral problem. Faith is non-intellectual, and tends to become anti-intellectual, no matter what form of Faith it is. Oogedy Boogedy and religion go together better than do the former and economics. People still like Christianity. Voodoo, not so much.


So, are the Republicans going to invite the moderates back into the party? I doubt it. I don't think they're entirely finished the job of purging them!

italics begone

@Zifnab: The loyal religious voters turned out to the polls in the belief that John McCain (unlike Bush 2 and Bush 1 and Saint Reagen and Brave Sir Ford and Poor Martyred Nixon) would finally outlaw abortion and bring Jesus back into the heart of America.

Uh, no. The religious right was suspicious of McCain and opposed him throughout the primaries. It was fear of Obama rather than support for McCain that drove them to the polls.

Without the fundies, who will vote R?

That's exactly the Republicans' problem and has been for one hundred years. Only the oligarchs benefit from their "ideas", so in order to win elections Republican politicians have to hide their real agenda behind up is down slogans while pushing the fear/hate buttons in low information voters and while masking their appeals to selfishness behind a veneer of psuedo respectabiity to get the votes of people who really don't care about much except their taxes. This has been the Republican formula in election after election for decades.

However the formula of scapegoating the internal enemy while fearmongering about the external enemy while pushing some emotionally appealling but fundamentally silly domestic policy only works if times are good and people can afford to vote against their own interests. It doesn't work when large numbers of independent and/or low information voters are feeling stressed and can't afford the self indulgence of voting to micro manage their neighbor's sex life or to smite exaggerated or imaginary enemies.

When the majority of Americans have real problems, they vote for Democrats. Rove himself acknowledged this. When asked about the possiblity of a permenent Republican majority he said that it was possible as long as the ordinary voter wasn't feeling too much pain.

Republicans don't have to worry about their long term future. They haven't been a party of ideas since Teddy Roosevelt's day and they are still here. They will endure because they represent the worst of our culture and the worst of human character: selfishness, fear and hate of the boogeyman, jingoism; in short, the desire to use the power of government for one's own personal shortterm interests or emotional needs rather than the longterm benefit of the whole. Once the real problems recede and a critical mass of voters are reasonably comfortable appeals to jingoism, fearmongering, scapegoating, and selfishness will once again work and Republicans will start winning again outside the Bible Belt.

So, not to worry, Kathleen. Just wait until the grown ups clean up the mess and the children can all come out to play again.

Did I cause the italics?

I have a mixed reaction to Parker’s column. It seems to me that her analysis of the relationship between the GOP and the religious right is far too shallow – she accurately senses a problem but doesn’t dive in deep enough to diagnose it correctly or to untangle the strands of this story in a way that is constructive (either from the standpoint of the GOP or the country as a whole).

From my viewpoint the problem with the religious right lies not in the fact of them being religious per se. I see no problem with a political movement being informed by a sense of social ethics which derives from religion amongst other sources. See the progressive Civil Rights movement of the late 20th Cen. for an example of how this can be a positive and constructive thing. If our political movements were drained of their ethical impulses and cut off from any source of religious inspiration, we would be left with little apart from factional power grabs and money grubbing competition for limited resources. There should be and must be a place in our politics for an appeal to what Lincoln called the Better Angels of our Nature, and I think ethical impulses inspired by religion have historically had a large part to play in providing this, one which I expect to continue.

The problem with the religious right is not that they are religious – it is that they (or at least the subset of this group who are a political drag on the GOP as pointed out by Parker) are fanatics. Fanaticism rather than religion is their problem - and note that the totalitarian political movements of the 20th Cen. taught us (in case we needed reminding), that fanaticism is not solely or necessarily derived from religion. And of course the problem with fanatics is that they reject compromise and use ends-justify-the-means arguments to grease the skids of partisan warfare, a slippery ethical slope which leads to all sorts of bad destinations.

So rather than calling for a withdrawal from the public square of our religious convictions (as Parker does), what I think we need is for people to bring their religion into politics in a way which is informed and constrained by a deep sense of personal and collective humility, understanding that we have to be able to disagree with one another and nonetheless find ways to work together in a constructive fashion even in areas where we may each think that God tells us how things should be. Especially when your God and my God and somebody else's Darwinian system all speak with different voices.

Doing so does not require a lack of faith, or imply not taking seriously what we think that religion teaches us and asks of us. What it requires is an understanding and appreciation of our all too human limitations such that those who have faith can see themselves as very imperfect vessels for its expression, and a corresponding sense of limited vehemence in trying to carry that faith into the public square. When we bring our convictions into the public arena we need to grip them lightly like a dove, not tightly like a baseball bat.

And to follow on my prior comment, this was something that the architects of our nation understood better than we do today I think, perhaps because the vicious sectarian wars of religion of the 17th Cen. were not long gone in the past to them (e.g., the English Civil War of the 1640s was about as distant for them as the 1860-65 conflict is for us today) and thus still very much a part of their political consciousness.

No, the problem with the GOP isn't with the religious right.

I think most people find abortion distasteful and revolting, and aren't as hostile to pro-life position, as much as they dislike the government interfering with a woman's choice.

Their position on gay marriage probably turns more people off, but again, relatively speaking, it's not quite as bad as:

1. Running up 5 trillion in debt in 8 years
2. Dragging us into two land wars in Asia and shortchanging the just war to focus on Iraq.
3. Presiding over the tanking of the economy.
4. Continually running to us screaming, "OMG! TRUST US WITH UNLIMITED (Surveillance power, lawbreaking immunity, 700 billion dollars) OR LIFE AS WE KNOW WILL END!!!!" And then once we acquiesce, betraying our trust.
5. The intolerance of dissenting ideas and the utter contempt the ruling GOP pundits have for entertaining debate on opposing ideas.
5a. the subsequent vilification of those who challenge their ideas.
6. The inability to articulate ideas or provide a rational argument for why your ideas are correct.

I could go on, but electorally speaking, I think, Kathleen, that my brothers and sisters in the faith who still support your pathetic party are the least of your problems.

two months ago, if you had mentioned her name, i would have said she was a dim witted ann coulter wanna-be. lately, i've had to reconsider. i think i owe her an apology. its nice, encountering integrity in a political columnist. and its getting to be damned rare.

I agree with zifnab that this is the party base, but I disagree with Kathleen Parker about the oogledy boogledy and soap crate comments.

I live in a rural (red) community, and too many of the people here are just very sincere in their belief that abortion and gay marriage are the biggest moral evils facing us. Our local Republican headquarters proudly displays the Ten Commandments in the window. I know the people who run it, and they are very nice, caring people who would just not understand why this might offend some people. They also love Sarah Palin because they think she just "gets it", and they won't listen to a word against her.

Insulting them is not going to be the solution for Republicans who don't see things their way.


two months ago, if you had mentioned her name, i would have said she was a dim witted ann coulter wanna-be. lately, i've had to reconsider.

It seems like everybody has their breaking point, some just are reaching it sooner than others. With John Cole it was the Terry Schiavo fiasco a good while back, with Kathleen Parker and David Brooks it seems to have been the Palin VP pick.

If somebody writes a book about how the GOP coalition fell apart, they should call it "The Bonfire of the RINOs".

I find this hilarious. My local paper has carried Parker's column for well over a decade and if anything this is the party she helped create. Until recently ( the last year or so?) she's give at best lip service to the idea of a separation of church and state, with most instances simply being her attempt to get "secularists" to join her, not to actually get the fundamentalists on her side to budge. Right after 9/11 she was among the very voices that were suggesting that God had to be reincorporated back into public institutions. Lets not suggest that she's suddenly our friend or ally in marginalizing the fundamentalist Christians that her agenda has been riding on, she's only whining that they got caught.

The only reason '08 wasn't an even bigger blowout was because of the reliable fundie support.

The fundamentalist support is not reliable. It has to be motivated with a plausible promise that fundamentalist concerns will be taken care of. McCain was going to lose a lot of that support to indifference until he nominated Palin and got the base fired up again. The problem was that the cost of firing up the base was alienating the center.

That's the big problem facing the Republican party right now. The fundamentalists are important enough to hold the party hostage, but they're not big enough to win the election by themselves, and they're toxic enough to scare away middle-of-the-road voters. Republican candidates are left walking a tightrope, trying to do enough to mobilize the base while not doing so much that they alienate the rest of the electorate. That's why tactics like dog whistles, that communicate to the base but not the rest of the electorate, are so important.

Lets not suggest that she's suddenly our friend or ally in marginalizing the fundamentalist Christians that her agenda has been riding on, she's only whining that they got caught.

I don't know if she's whining they got caught or if she had her moment of enlightenment after the base turned their guns on her. Remember, she was doing her dog whistle columns on race and gender politics just about up to the time that Palin was picked, and for whatever reason, that was just a bridge too far for Parker. She's written extensively and snarkily about the tons of nasty emails she's gotten from former fans. I think she's realized that you can't stray an inch off the party line or these cut rate Jacobins are out for your blood. While she's still certainly a conservative, she seems to be going further off the reservation every time you look. Whatever you think of her past performances, it's a movement to be encouraged.

So rather than calling for a withdrawal from the public square of our religious convictions (as Parker does), what I think we need is for people to bring their religion into politics...understanding that we have to be able to disagree with one another and nonetheless find ways to work together in a constructive fashion even in areas where we may each think that God tells us how things should be.

Ah, ThatLeft, you have put your finger on the problem. If you really believe that G_d has told you that things should be a certain way, then there's really no room for compromise, is there? I'm not being sarcastic. A sincere fundamentalist doesn't believe in merely letting their religio-ethical wisdom inform their political action - people who have that latter attitude are The Enemy just as much as is a gay atheist. I mean, it's your ethcial considerations vs The Word of God! I happen to like your formulation a lot, but the fundies are actually right, in a way. It's a point older than Kierkegaard.

And this tends to be the case with any ideologue/fundamentalist. The people who fomented movement conservatism were true believers. They didn't merely disagree with Eisenhower (not to mention the dread Rockefeller!) - they *hated* him. Their point was: we conservatives are going to really be who we say we are, and really do what our 'philosophy' calls for. And they did it, to the extent it was possible. And lo, it was a disaster. How do you now go back to the Republicanism of the 1950s? I think it's going to be really hard, and will take a while. But who knows?


If you really believe that G_d has told you that things should be a certain way, then there's really no room for compromise, is there?

Not really. I think that fallacy arises when a believer forgets the distinction between the speaker and the listener (in their conversation with the ultimate) with regard to fallibility. Just because God speaks to you it does not automatically follow that you heard correctly what was being said. In fact assuming the latter requires that we put aside notions of human fallibility, notions which are central to orthodox Christianity.

In that sense Christian fundamentalism has long struck me as being both heterodox and potentially blasphemous. I have no particular axe to grind on that score, but when these traits are brought into the sphere of politics in a way which is dysfunctional and has consequences borne by all of us, then I think I have grounds for protest and complaint.

"Begun, the Clone War has."

That makes sense, given Senator Palpatine's victory yesterday.

Drat.

If you really believe that God has told you that things should be a certain way, then there's really no room for compromise, is there?

Yes, there is.

First, there is the issue of context. Much of the New Testament moral commands are directed toward believers in Christ, not to everyone in general. The idea was that a follow of Christ should be different from the general populace and should live in such a way as to testify to the truth of his faith.

There is the issue of interpretation. Is this position or doctrine you're holding directly from the scriptures or is it something you've extrapolated as a generality from various texts (or heard from a pastor). And have you sought the ideas, opinions, and wisdom of others who might have interpreted the idea differently than you? And if you reject them, on what basis are you rejecting their interpretations for your own?

While the Bible is remarkably clear on certain things (the Christian doctrines of salvation, resurrection, and the judgment of the living and the dead), it is far less clear on issues like: just how big of a role should the government play in keeping social/moral norms.

My local paper has carried Parker's column for well over a decade and if anything this is the party she helped create.

And this is my ultimate problem with all these GOP "defectors": while there are some, like John Cole, who've acknowledge their own wrongness and wrong-doing -- not that John Cole actually did much wrong beyond being a vocal Republican supporter, but still -- the vast majority, like Kathleen Parker, hold themselves as blameless victims of an external aberration.

Well, Parker may be a victim, but she's not blameless. She helped create the beast that now wishes to feed on her. And until she faces up to that fact, long may it devour her.

Everything you say, CD, may be true; but in a political sense, it's predicated on the idea that the majority of people will be able to make that series of intellectual distinctions and take their own faith seriously as a faith, and not a tribal marker. Recent history suggests this is- optimistic, at best.

Excellent comment by TTLIA at 3:42.

I would only change the sentence,

Just because God speaks to you it does not automatically follow that you heard correctly what was being said.

to

Just because you think God spoke to you it does not automatically follow that He did, or that you heard correctly what was being said.

it's predicated on the idea that the majority of people will be able to make that series of intellectual distinctions and take their own faith seriously as a faith

Well, I think we Americans could generally use a refresher course in critical thinking, asking questions, and examining our own biases.

I'm not afraid of asking questions about my faith, because if I'm going to believe in something, I should have some basis for it.

But beyond this issue, I think a lot of people have adopted the idea of American exceptionalism, that somehow because we are the most prosperous and the most military strong nation, we are wiser and more gifted than the rest of humanity automatically by virtue of being Americans.

This evolves further into an almost idolatrous elevation of the government and the President, where they become nearly infallible figures (in so long as they belong to your political party.)

Witness the absolute dearth of consistently critical political commentators, and you'll see both in full display, a willing lack to apply critical thinking skills, and a reverence of the American government/president of their own party.

Which is why I found it highly entertaining to lurk in places like RedState and TownHall and National Review and witness the Republicans transform magically from big government loving power mongers into budget hawks critical of executive power.

But beyond this issue, I think a lot of people have adopted the idea of American exceptionalism, that somehow because we are the most prosperous and the most military strong nation, we are wiser and more gifted than the rest of humanity automatically by virtue of being Americans.

I think you have the cause and effect backward. We aren't wiser and more gifted because we're the strongest, most prosperous nation. We're the strongest and most prosperous nation because we're wiser and more gifted. More specifically, our system ensures the wisest, most gifted people naturally rise to the top. Tapping our nation's talent produces the power and prosperity, which prove America's superiority.

That also explains why we have such unreasonable respect for our leaders. If our system is the best, it won't let any loser become president just because he came from the right family. It ensures that only the very best representative of American ideals can lead us. If the system ensures that we have only the best leaders, we have to give them the utmost respect their stature deserves.

Of course that leaves the little question of what happens if the evidence of our superiority is false. If prosperity and power are proof that our system is the best, what happens if our apparent prosperity is just living beyond our means and our power evaporates when we have to pay back our debts? What happens if we elect a schmuck as president because of his family connections? Does that serve as proof that our system is worse than the other guys', or do we ignore it and keep pretending?

But beyond this issue, I think a lot of people have adopted the idea of American exceptionalism, that somehow because we are the most prosperous and the most military strong nation, we are wiser and more gifted than the rest of humanity automatically by virtue of being Americans.

This evolves further into an almost idolatrous elevation of the government and the President, where they become nearly infallible figures (in so long as they belong to your political party.)

Witness the absolute dearth of consistently critical political commentators, and you'll see both in full display, a willing lack to apply critical thinking skills, and a reverence of the American government/president of their own party.

Thank you - this is an extremely important point which bears repeating. American exceptionalism is a civic religion in the US which can, and at times has been, abused to a bad end, just as have other less secular faiths. Daniel Larison touched upon this very subject only just yesterday:

This reminds me of something important that Richard Gamble said at the ISI conference at Yale (about which I really will be saying more soon). He argued against the continued national and political appropriation of Christian language of mission and redemption. This language, of course, is at the heart of American nationalism/Americanism, and the use of religious language and concepts to justify, whitewash and simplify the past both displaces the proper Christian understanding of these words and concepts and invests the nation-state with quasi-sacred status and makes nationalist historiography into the record of a secular salvation history. ... Of course, it is impossible to be a normal country when a nationalist secular pseudo-religion defines the political culture.

Now I am of several minds on this subject.

For starters, Larison's observation, while true, is less compelling than he makes it seem with regard to the United States. Other great powers in the past, e.g. Victorian/Edwardian Britain, or Wilhelmite Imperial Germany, or to go further back France in its heydey as "The Most Christian Nation" (to say nothing of Spain under the Hapsburgs) have all indulged in this sort of missonary talk.

It seems to be an incurable occupational disease of imperial powers more generally rather than a specifically American problem. God is always on the side of the Big Battalions - or so they would have you think, with the notable exception of the Soviet Union (hence Stalin's dismissive remark about the Pope: "how many divisions does he have?"), in which case History with a capital H was perforce acting as God's understudy.

So this talk about how deluded we are chasing the chimera of American exceptionalism seem a bit overblown to me when placed in a larger context.

On the other hand, he does have a point, American exceptionalism is a very real and powerful force in our politics, and heaven help the leader who tries to row against that current.

I think that a very large part of the reason why it is so powerful and persistent is that unlike most normal countries the United States is not definitionally centered on a sense of ethno-cultural identity, so in the absence of that something else very powerful is needed to act as a focus of our common identity so as to bind us together as a nation, and American exceptionalism is the dark matter at the gravitational center of our political system which keeps everything else moving within its field of force. Take it away, and I'm not sure how well we really could hang together as a unified country.

One last note - as a (despite my moniker) political moderate, one of the ways that I distinguish my views from the nationalist right on the one hand and the Chomsky left on the other hand, is by way of my attitude towards American exceptionalism. I think they both misunderstand it.

I think Chomsky and co. are wrong to disparage American exceptionalism and to see the US as either a normal country or a source of evil in the world - I think our history belies that concept with too many examples where we have in fact been a source of progress and a force for good in this world. To take a somewhat more obscure example than most, the victory of Lincoln's Union had a significant positive effect on progressive political causes in Victorian England (see Simon Schama for details).

On the other hand I think the nationalist right are simply wrong to think that we are good because we are Americans, and thus definitionally we are incapable of evil. Rather, I see our exceptionalism as being a historically grounded (and thus unique because our history is so different from that of other nations) capacity and potential for good, a potential which all too frequently goes unrealized or is deferred, but is present nonetheless despite the fact that we do not always live up to it.

Or task as Americans is to work to live up to that promise, not to use it as an excuse for our failures and misdeeds.

I think most people find abortion distasteful and revolting, and aren't as hostile to pro-life position, as much as they dislike the government interfering with a woman's choice.

This is wildly incorrect. Most people find women's sexuality distasteful and revolting and they wish to control it. One of the ways they control it is through restrictions on contraception and abortion.

Pro-choice people normally don't have your reaction to abortion. It's no more "revolting and distasteful" than most medical procedures. And most people who have the "ick" reaction to abortion also find themselves incapable of considering the matter of the women's choice and governmental interference - these ideas are far too complex and abstract for them.

Usually, "ick" proceeds to "make it illegal."

I suggest you speak for yourself, not "most people."

"Or task as Americans is to work to live up to that promise, not to use it as an excuse for our failures and misdeeds."

You sound alarmingly like a liberal.

I resemble that remark.

One of the ways they control it is through restrictions on contraception and abortion.

Please.

There may be some fringe folks who feel that way, but most of those I know despise the idea of abortion because they believe it terminates a human life or a potential human life, which is a distasteful act, and could care less about what individual women want to do with their sexuality.

I think Chomsky and co. are wrong to disparage American exceptionalism and to see the US as either a normal country or a source of evil in the world - I think our history belies that concept with too many examples where we have in fact been a source of progress and a force for good in this world.

I'll stand up for Chomsky here, even if I don't agree with him on everything. First off, I don't think the Chompskyite-left as you call them deny that America has done good things in the past, just that the record includes both good and bad. The good we hear about incessantly; the bad gets relegated to a footnote on page A29. The relevant standard should not be "has America ever once done one good thing for the world", but I think rather "has America done more good things and fewer bad things compared to other countries with comparable wealth and power?". I don't know how to answer that question in general, but I do know the answer for some component questions. I know that Americans give a great deal less in foreign aid than do people in Europe. I know that Americans brought about the deaths of a whole bunch of Iraqis for no reason and that America as a nation can't even be bothered to recognize that or show any remorse, let alone try to make restitution. Where I come from, creating so much death and destruction without any sign of contrition is considered sociopathy. If you think America has brought enough good to the world over the last eight years to compensate for Iraq such that our per capita net good is comparable to other rich countries, I'd love to see you make the case.

Every "normal" country has a national mythology that portends a promise of genuine contribution to the world; in every normal country, people struggle to realize that promise. So I don't see why you think that America isn't a normal country. The point that I took away from Chompsky is that America does both the trumpeted good and the hidden bad BECAUSE it is a normal country and that this what big powerful human institutions do.

Please.

There may be some fringe folks who feel that way, but most of those I know despise the idea of abortion because they believe it terminates a human life or a potential human life, which is a distasteful act, and could care less about what individual women want to do with their sexuality.

Please yourself.

You obviously didn't read what was written, because what you wrote applies only to ONE of the things SarahT mentioned.

Either that, or what she wrote is more than appropriate.

So I don't see why you think that America isn't a normal country

For starters, our canonical definition of citizenship (which, as with other things, we do not always live up to) is not ethno-cultural and linguistic, unlike most other nations. We were the first large scale nation in the modern era to define membership in our polity in terms of adherence to the ideals stated in our foundational documents and to define our constitutional system in legalistic rather than customary terms. These things alone mark the US as rather different from most other nations, quite apart from the geographic and demographic peculiarity of the US. On the latter front, we have the 3rd largest population of any nation at the present time, while occupying a distinctly different economic and political niche from the other two countries with very large populations. We are not normal in the sense of not being very average.

As to the US being a net positive force, as terrible as the crimes and mistakes we have committed in Iraq are, I think putting them alongside the role we played in defeating the totalitarian ideologies of the 20th Cen., I would say the latter bulk larger than the former, judging from the number of directly affected individuals.

The ideals stated in our founding documents (which again, we don't always live up to) and our most precious restatements of those ideals over time (Lincoln's speeches, Wilson's 14 points, FDR's Four Freedoms, and the orations of MLK Jr. come to mind immediately) have inspired numerous copies, from constitutions modelled on the US constitution, to human rights declarations dating from the Rights of Man of the French Revolution to the UN Charter. The very denunciations of our bloody conduct which indict us are in part a product of the global political culture we have helped to create.

Again, none of this is by way of excusing or trying to whitewash the evils we have done, from slavery and the near extermination of Native Americans to the present day war in Iraq. Where I part company with Chomsky is that it seems to me that the evils we have committed are substantially ills which would have in some guise been committed by some other power had the US never been, whereas the things we have done right and done well, I'm not so sure about that. Erase the US from history and replace it with a generic great power of the sort which has for centuries occupied the same economic and political niche which we occupy, and I think the world is on balance worse off rather than better.

I don't deny that the US has acted as an imperial power - with all of the blood on our hands that this entails, but I'm in agreement with the historian Niall Ferguson that the US has (owing to our ideological origins in an anti-colonial revolt against England) for most of that time been a rather more halting and reluctant imperial power than is typical for that species, and that has made a difference in terms of the harshness and scope of our crimes, compared with what another power of equal size would have done in our absence under similar circumstances.

IMHO, YMMV as usual.

I think ThatLeft is probably right that American exceptionalism may be needed as a civic religion in a way it isn't in European countries. But Reinhold Niebuhr inThe Irony of American History was right about how easily such an attitude becomes sinful, arguing for the perfection of the US.

Also, one of the big problems since the 1960s is that the US is a quasi-imperial power that has not experienced decolonialism (unlike the former British and French Empires). And that means that the US has not collectively learnt one basic lesson: foreign people don't love being controlled, even if it's 'in their best interests'. The British got the jolting realisation that given the choice of 'enlightened' British rule or their own 'inferior' government, colony after colony wanted out. And I don't think ever since many British people (except extreme right-wingers) have thought that Britain knows better than the 'natives' what a particular country should do. I think in contrast, the US is still full of the belief that they can run other people's countries better than their own inhabitants, and that as a result they ought to do so, or at least ensure forceably that only the correct 'natives' get to rule ('They've got to be respected, all their rights protected, till someone we like can be elected').

the US is a quasi-imperial power that has not experienced decolonialism

Nguyễn Sinh Cung begs to differ with you.

Vietnam was France's colony, not the United States'. And as we were repeatedly assured, the ruling class, at least, of the U.S., "got over" the "lesson of Vietnam" with Gulf War I.

"...in contrast, the US is still full of the belief that they can run other people's countries better than their own inhabitants..." is unfortunately eminently correct.

Vietnam was France's colony, not the United States'

The Vietnamese didn't see it that way from the 50's on.

If the US didn't learn the lesson of, "Foreign people don't love being controlled" in Vietnam, I'd hate to imagine what it would take to get them up to speed.

Perhaps she's not whining about being caught so much as aware and afraid of the beast she's helped create. She's still pretty conflicted about religion though. In today's article itself she says:

it isn't necessary to evict the Creator from the public square, surrender Judeo-Christian values or diminish the value of faith in America.

In many ways she's a younger Cal Thomas.

If the US didn't learn the lesson of, "Foreign people don't love being controlled" in Vietnam, I'd hate to imagine what it would take to get them up to speed.

I thought the mental contortion that a lot of Americans went through in the Vietnam war was that it was the wicked communists who forced the Vietnamese people into opposing US control that they would otherwise 'naturally' want. And those communists, of course in the view of such Americans, only wanted their country to be controlled by China (or was it Russia at the time)?

A woman came up to me and said "I'd like to poison your mind With wrong ideas that appeal to you Though I am not unkind"

For starters, our canonical definition of citizenship (which, as with other things, we do not always live up to) is not ethno-cultural and linguistic, unlike most other nations.

My father in law spent six months trying to get a driver's license in WV after he moved there. He failed. Every single time, he was rejected because he "was obviously an illegal immigrant." His passport did nothing to dissipate that claim. Nor did his social security card. Nor did his military ID showing that he was a retired officer from the US military. Nor did any of the dozen other identifying documents he brought. He finds your claim about the canonical definition of citizenship to be highly amusing ;-)

Tis but an anecdote, but at least it is funny. I think what you describe is actually one of the best features of America, but in that regard, are we really that different than, say, Canada? Even some of the much maligned European countries are reorientating so that our cultural definition of citizenship is based much more on linguistic fealty than anything else: the French will overlook many an immigrant's flaws if their French is excellent.

We were the first large scale nation in the modern era to define membership in our polity in terms of adherence to the ideals stated in our foundational documents and to define our constitutional system in legalistic rather than customary terms.

Why do these things matter today? Are Americans any more free than Canadians or Frenchmen? And historically, we certainly did not define membership in the polity based on ideals. Note the lack of black folk at the Constitutional Convention. We pretend that we did, but that's just a myth.

These things alone mark the US as rather different from most other nations, quite apart from the geographic and demographic peculiarity of the US.

But they're not significant in terms of making people's lives better.

On the latter front, we have the 3rd largest population of any nation at the present time, while occupying a distinctly different economic and political niche from the other two countries with very large populations.

I prefer to focus on per capita measurements. It is not clear to be a priori that large states contribute more to the world overall than an equivalent collect of small states.

We are not normal in the sense of not being very average.

Sure, but by that standard, no country is "normal."

As to the US being a net positive force, as terrible as the crimes and mistakes we have committed in Iraq are, I think putting them alongside the role we played in defeating the totalitarian ideologies of the 20th Cen., I would say the latter bulk larger than the former, judging from the number of directly affected individuals.

Maybe. But the relevant comparison is not "did we do more than zero to stop the Axis powers?" but rather "did we do more than a country of our size and power would have done?". We did not directly intervene until we had been attacked. Do you think we would have intervened at all has the Japanese government delayed their attack?

The ideals stated in our founding documents (which again, we don't always live up to) and our most precious restatements of those ideals over time (Lincoln's speeches, Wilson's 14 points, FDR's Four Freedoms, and the orations of MLK Jr. come to mind immediately) have inspired numerous copies, from constitutions modelled on the US constitution, to human rights declarations dating from the Rights of Man of the French Revolution to the UN Charter.

Well what did you expect? Anytime you have a wealthy powerful country full of millions individuals writing and speaking for centuries, you're going to get some real gems. Some of those gems will be copied. Again, that's what you expect to happen. And note that all of those beautiful documents are in some sense descended from other beautiful documents and ideas produced in other countries.

A lack of pretty words has never been the main problem our species has had. What we've been lacking is decent action by the powerful. You talk of the Rights of Man, but did America support her French brothers and sisters during their revolution? No. Of course not. That would have cost money and what did the French ever do for us? Somehow, I think that even without our pretty words declaration, the people of France would have written their own document full of pretty words. Rumor has it they're quite good at that sort of thing. Likewise, I think it is slightly ridiculous to talk about our contributions to the UN charter when we don't accept it. Our entire political culture along with most of our population revels in the notion that the US has the right to do what it wishes militarily regardless of what other countries think. At a very visceral level, this country has rejected the UN charter. I'm sure many a slave owners' eye welled up with tears on July 4 as they reread the Declaration of Independence. We've gone beyond that level of hypocrisy though.

Again, none of this is by way of excusing or trying to whitewash the evils we have done, from slavery and the near extermination of Native Americans to the present day war in Iraq. Where I part company with Chomsky is that it seems to me that the evils we have committed are substantially ills which would have in some guise been committed by some other power had the US never been, whereas the things we have done right and done well, I'm not so sure about that.

I see both the good and the bad as likely to have been done with or without us. I wonder if you would come around to my way of thinking if you were not an American.

Erase the US from history and replace it with a generic great power of the sort which has for centuries occupied the same economic and political niche which we occupy, and I think the world is on balance worse off rather than better.

The behavior of "generic great powers" changes dramatically over time. The US has acted the part of the great power in a period where there have been few great powers to compare it with. I think that makes the sort of analysis you're attempting here very challenging. If the British still had an empire and they decided to reinvade Iraq, they would act much less harshly now than they did during their last invasion because social norms change over time.


the US is a quasi-imperial power that has not experienced decolonialism (unlike the former British and French Empires). And that means that the US has not collectively learnt one basic lesson: foreign people don't love being controlled, even if it's 'in their best interests'. The British got the jolting realisation that given the choice of 'enlightened' British rule or their own 'inferior' government, colony after colony wanted out.

Yeah, sort of like that British colony in 1776 that wanted out.

You obviously didn't read what was written, because what you wrote applies only to ONE of the things SarahT mentioned.

Hence why I only quoted one sentence. If I wanted to comment further on the rest of it, I would have quoted more.

Polls routinely do not show much more support for the 'abortion should be legal in all cases' than for 'abortion should be illegal in all cases'. The ones I just perused show the former position usually polling in the high teens, and the latter in the low teens.

Yet people who claim to support Roe v. Wade resides in the 50-60 percentile. So, there is a disconnect between people who hold the opinion that there is a right, and how far that right should extend.

Aside from this, it makes little sense for pro-choice partisans, such as President Elect Obama to discuss the idea of reducing overall abortions via the path of sex education and available contraceptives (an idea I agree with). If it's just a medical procedure to the majority of the country, why bother trying to reduce it?

But they're not significant in terms of making people's lives better.

True but irrelevant. You are artificially conflating two different arguments of mine here. Nothing you've said contradicts the notion that US history is peculiar because of the abnormality of our geographic and demographic circumstances.


Well what did you expect? Anytime you have a wealthy powerful country full of millions individuals writing and speaking for centuries, you're going to get some real gems. Some of those gems will be copied. Again, that's what you expect to happen. And note that all of those beautiful documents are in some sense descended from other beautiful documents and ideas produced in other countries.

I'm sorry but I don't agree with this idea at all. Dissemination of political ideas (as opposed to say literature) depends not just on the inherent appeal of those ideas but also on whether they are successfully put into practice, and what the fruits of that practice prove to be.

How much appeal would the words "We hold these truths to be self-evident..." have been if the signers of that Declaration had all been rounded up and hanged for the crime of treason, and the reconstituted British colonies on the Atlantic seaboard of America had been reorganized along political lines more like say late 18th Cen. Ireland?

It seems to me that you are using what used to be called the Whig view of history (a fallacy of inevitable progress in which our world today was foreordained to come into being) to proclaim that the ideas we collectively value today would have been reached regardless, that no alternative path could have been taken which would result in a world with noticeably different values. This is revealed most clearly when you write:


The behavior of "generic great powers" changes dramatically over time.

Yes, and why is that exactly? If the answer the Athenians gave to the Melians is no longer good enough, why is that? When and where did this change arise and how did it happen? What caused it, Hegelian tides of history? Or did specific individuals play a role? Who were the actors (both individual and collective) who caused these changes to occur?

It seems to me that you are trying to invoke these changes (which I agree are real) in the moral code of our politics for the purposes of judging the actions of the US while eliding the role of many of the principle actors who helped to bring that change about, namely the people of that very same US, thereby ignoring the very point I was making.

Have the people of the US both collectively and individually been in the past (and continue to be today) hypocrites? Yes, but then in my comments I've already made that point, not in the form of a tactical concession in the course of shifting debating tactics, but as a core part of my creedal statement. But I don’t expect any sort of resolution to this argument (creedal disputes are seldom resolved). I think we have a fundamental disagreement about the rules for constructing counterfactual histories, as a result of which I don't think either one of us is going to find the other very persuasive.

Aside from this, it makes little sense for pro-choice partisans, such as President Elect Obama to discuss the idea of reducing overall abortions via the path of sex education and available contraceptives (an idea I agree with).

I must strenuously disagree.

If it's just a medical procedure to the majority of the country, why bother trying to reduce it?

Because all medical procedures entail risks and costs, and it makes sense to prevent the conditions that make them necessary. Because not everyone agrees that it is "only" a medical procedure, and seeking ways to reduce unplanned pregnancies is one of the only areas of constructive middle ground between people who will never see eye to eye about the moral questions surrounding abortion?

I wouldn't think either of these points to be particularly arguable, except to the hardcore partisans on either side--and they're not the audience for these measures anyway.

In addition, I would say that preventing unplanned/undesired pregnancies is a near-universally desirable goal, entirely separate from any wrangling over abortion. The only people I can think of who would disagree with that goal are those who are opposed to contraception in principle--which, while part of the teachings of a few very large religions, is in the United States an extreme fringe position, and rightfully so.

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