Ideological birth certificates
The National Review asks: Can a true American be liberal?
At The National Review, editors Richard Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru argue, in 5,000 words, that Pres. Obama assaults “American identity” and the concept of “American exceptionalism.” Damon Linker rebukes the piece at The New Republic. Here’s the outline of their argument:
What do we, as American conservatives, want to conserve? The answer is simple: the pillars of American exceptionalism. Our country has always been exceptional. It is freer, more individualistic, more democratic, and more open and dynamic than any other nation on earth. These qualities are the bequest of our Founding and of our cultural heritage. They have always marked America as special, with a unique role and mission in the world: as a model of ordered liberty and self-government and as an exemplar of freedom and a vindicator of it, through persuasion when possible and force of arms when absolutely necessary.
These unique American qualities began with the colonies:
America was blessedly unencumbered by an ancien régime. Compared with Europe, it had no church hierarchy, no aristocracy, no entrenched economic interests, no ingrained distaste for commercial activity. It almost entirely lacked the hallmarks of a traditional post-feudal agrarian society. It was as close as you could get to John Locke’s state of nature. It was ruled from England, but lightly; Edmund Burke famously described English rule here as “salutary neglect.” Even before the Revolution, America was the freest country on earth.
The American ideology:
Exact renderings of the creed differ, but the basic outlines are clear enough. The late Seymour Martin Lipset defined it as liberty, equality (of opportunity and respect), individualism, populism, and laissez-faire economics. The creed combines with other aspects of the American character – especially our religiousness and our willingness to defend ourselves by force – to form the core of American exceptionalism.
Liberty is the most important element of the creed. To secure it, the Founders set about strictly limiting government within carefully specified bounds. Immediately upon the collapse of British government in America, the states drew up written constitutions and neutered their executives. They went as far as they could possibly go to tame the government – indeed, they went farther, and had to start over to get a functioning state. But even this second try produced a Constitution that concentrated as much on what government could not do as on what it could.
This missionary impulse is another product of the American Revolution, which took English liberties and universalized them. The Founders thought we would play an outsized role in the world from the very beginning. We would be an “empire of liberty,” Jefferson said. He believed that the flame of liberty, once lit on our shores, would inevitably consume the world.
They then argue that the left aims to replace these American values with foreign, especially European ideologies:
In the early 20th century, the Left was fascinated with all things German and brimmed with enthusiasm for Bismarck’s welfare state. Woodrow Wilson, in a sentiment typical of progressive intellectuals, deemed Bismarck’s creation an “admirable system”; he was less admiring of the American Founding. Herbert Croly, the founder of The New Republic and one of the most significant progressive intellectuals of the era, was another Bismarck admirer. Croly advocated rule by “expert social engineers” to bring to these shores the best innovations of the modern dictatorial movements taking over in Europe…
New Deal intellectuals gushed over Bolshevism in the 1930s. FDR Brain Truster Stuart Chase enthused, “Why should Russians have all the fun of remaking a world?” His statement captured the utopian underpinnings of the progressive project and the yearning for the kind of radical remaking of society that was readily attainable only in countries that gave themselves over entirely to the state. The other model was Italian fascism, which New Dealers studied closely and in important respects aped…
From Richard Rorty to Todd Gitlin, they have proclaimed their allegiance to a hypothetical, pure country that is coming into being rather than to the one they inhabit.
They conclude by arguing by Pres. Obama fits right in line with the anti-American history of the American left.
Obama’s health-care policy would change the relationship of people to government, probably forever, by further nationalizing our system. It would have the federal government, for the first time, order all Americans to purchase a specified product. And socialized health-care systems in other lands have become endless warrants for more taxing and spending, as both are justified as necessary to delivering adequate health care.
His hesitance to advocate American ideals is not a return to the realpolitik of Nixon or the first Bush. A deep naïveté informs his policy. He believes that our enemies can be persuaded, merely through sweet talk and blandishments, to abandon their cold-blooded interests and their most deeply held ambitions. This is impossible without developing the kind of leverage over them in which Obama seems to have little interest. Yes, Reagan negotiated with the Soviets, but only when they had a leader who was a reformer and the arms build-up and the prospect of SDI had tilted the correlation of forces – to use the Marxist argot – in our direction. Under the sway of Obama’s anti-idealism, the U.S. is less interested in serving as a champion of liberty; his policies will also reduce our power, and thus our effectiveness should we choose to wield it again.