Vail Daily letter: Ideologues leading us into trouble
Vail, CO, Colorado
It’s election time, so our national and local ideologues are putting new twists on basic concepts to become the new political wedge issues. The list includes American exceptionalism – questioning the intensity of one’s beliefs. Let’s peel the onion. President Obama gave a speech in which he said, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”
A few comments are in order:
• Apparently Karl Rove picked up cynically on this as he repeated the sentence by adding “Honduras exceptionalism,” something not said by the president.
• President Obama’s sentence was just the lead-in to a comprehensive explanation of why America is extremely proud of its exceptionalism, including: listing our core values as enshrined in our Constitution (governance, law, democratic practices, etc.); the unmatched power and sacrifices of our military; helping rebuild our former enemy in Europe after World War II; leading the world in peace and prosperity; etc.
• The lead-in sentence was absolutely right, even if it stopped there. If nations do not feel some sense of exceptionalism, the world will literally come apart at the seams.
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Deposed people from the most dangerous nations in the world still yearn to come back someday to a land they love and feel is exceptional.
It is unfortunate for those who mock the lead-in sentence that they could not have spent some time living in a foreign land overseas and working in its local economy. I did for six years, learning about my host country’s exceptionalism and learning to appreciate my own country more.
President Obama also said, “our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional.” Here I would like to peel the onion of equality, specifically equality of opportunity and upward mobility. A few inconvenient comparison facts need to be addressed:
• Upward mobility: A recent study comparing upward social-financial mobility among nations found it dramatically harder to climb the economic ladder in the USA than in six countries – Denmark, Australia, Norway, Finland, Canada and Germany.
• Wealth distribution: At the time of the 1929 crash, 1 percent of the people earned nearly 25 percent of the national income , dropping to 7 percent in the mid-1970s (not too bad of a time for us), and now back to nearly 25 percent. Putting it another way, the 99 percent had 93 percent of the pie to cut up in the mid-1970s vs. only 75 percent now. This whole situation is way beyond simple envy, and it could get worse.
• Education: Many, many studies have been making it clear the USA is way behind other nations in terms of science and math – a key inhibitor of our being able to compete in a world economy.
So how do we address these and other major problems? It would seem we need a major wake-up call. World War II was a wake-up call and our nation pulled together with a common goal. We had a wake-up call on Sept. 11, 2001, and we all pulled together supporting our president, but in the end that was short-lived and a lost opportunity.
Electing our next president from either party will not do it, as the Congress has become inept at doing anything. Bluntly, we will not start to solve our problems as Congress is becoming stacked with ideologues with their incredibly simplistic one-liners saying all government is bad.
Already the Republican-controlled House is having trouble with these members, like trying to herd cats. The analogy could be how the babbling ideologues got their way with Prohibition in 1920, causing common folk to become lawbreakers in the 1920s and leading us into the Great Depression through the 1930s.
Clearly, this was a time when we were not so exceptional and it could happen again, but in a different way. It’s OK to get lathered up about the next president, but pay more attention to the real issue – the makeup of the House and Senate – and what will it take to have that needed wake up call.