The Politico’s piece on the attempt–and the risk–of John McCain’s campaign to paint Barack Obama as “unpatriotic” needs a little clarification.
I’ve taken heat for demonstrating that Obama’s relationship with the U.S. is not in sync with what many Americans regard as “patriotic.” But that begs the obvious question: what is patriotism?
I’ve noted before that this country was founded on an ideal, not an ethnic identity or a prince/subject relationship. Patriotism as most commonly understood is probably best (if a little overblown) expressed by Jack Kennedy in his “ask not what your country can do for you/ask what you can do for your country” challenge he gave at his inaugural. We give of ourselves selflessly for our country which in turn gives us the chance to succeed in an atmosphere (and hopefully a legal environment) of freedom and opportunity.
It’s tempting–and it’s John McCain’s challenge to make it stick–to put Barack Obama, with his exotic background and elitist snob demeanour, in isolation. But Obama’s liberalism is of a piece with an extended attempt to redefine Americans’ relationship with their country, and by extension what patriotism means.
For liberals, loyalty to country centres on government. Ideally they would like to turn this country into another Europe. But the U.S. lacks the ethnic homogeniety to bond a nationalist state together such as the Europeans have done, and to undermine things further the left has done more than its share to riddle our national life with identity politics, turning us into a land of racists, sexists and homophobes. (That almost backfired on them with Hillary Clinton’s campaign, but I digress…)
So we must turn to a social contract approach: our government provides us with a battery of social services (education, health care, employment or the dole) and we in turn respond by putting up with any and all of the restrictions our government cares to throw at us and the occasional demand for corvée such as national service (yes, that’s coming with these people, too.)
There are two related problems with this.
The first is that to change a successful formula such as the one we have had in this country is risky. There’s no guarantee that the U.S. would make a graceful change to a European style social contract, and I’m inclined to think that it wouldn’t.
The second is much simpler to grasp: we are too far in the hole to afford such an experiment. Like it or not, we are a debtor nation, and the receding of dollar hegemony only will make that worse. We need the economic growth that a relatively unfettered economy can bring to enable us to meet our obligations. Larding our system with a new, expensive social contract will hinder our way out of debt, producing a perpetually sluggish economy with reduced living standards and a larger foreign domination of our national life. It will ultimately defeat its own purpose.
And, if you think that foreign domination is what we “provincial” Americans need, just ask any liberal Episcopalian prelate about what they think of the Africans moving in on their turf. You can’t always choose your new foreign masters!