Mike Kueber's Blog

November 3, 2014

Aphorism of the Week #21 – America, love it or leave it

Filed under: Aphorism,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 11:55 pm
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“Love it or leave it” is an idiomatic expression that I first encountered 60s as a pro-war political slogan. It has been described, rightly, as an example of an “either/or fallacy” or a false dilemma, but I think it is worth considering. .

Back in Vietnam days, my thought about the expression was that those who opposed the war might have just as much love for America as those who supported the war. Of course, such a discussion would turn on the definition of patriotism, and that is not the subject of this post.

In current days, the expression is often used by people in the majority when their political philosophy – whether liberal or conservative – comes under attack by a minority. Conversely, it’s not unusual for highly partisan minorities to vaguely ruminate about leaving America when the majority disrespects or dismisses their values and concerns. Indeed, that thought once wandered across my brain for an instant, but quickly dissipated when I realized that, despite the growth of government in America, we still had the most government-free developed nation in the world. By contrast, those liberals who looks so favorably on the welfare state in Western Europe have numerous location options that seem more amenable to their political philosophy.

I wonder what those progressive lovers of more government find to love about America. Do they think America is exceptional?

America’s most famous progressive, President Obama, famously down-played the concept of American exceptionalism in 2009 shortly after taking office when he was asked at a press conference in France – “… could I ask you whether you subscribe, as many of your predecessors have, to the school of American exceptionalism that sees America as uniquely qualified to lead the world, or do you have a slightly different philosophy?”

President Obama’s famous response:

  • “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism. I’m enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world…. And if you think of our current situation, the United States remains the largest economy in the world. We have unmatched military capability. And I think that we have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional.”

More recently, President Obama took another crack at better expounding on American exceptionalism, on May 28, 2014 at a commencement address at West Point:

  • “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being. But what makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it is our willingness to affirm them through our actions. And that’s why I will continue to push to close Gitmo — because American values and legal traditions do not permit the indefinite detention of people beyond our borders. That’s why we’re putting in place new restrictions on how America collects and uses intelligence — because we will have fewer partners and be less effective if a perception takes hold that we’re conducting surveillance against ordinary citizens.”

President Obama just doesn’t get it. Who else would describe American exceptionalism by listing examples of American miscues? He would be better served by relying on a description of American exceptionalism by a leading authority on the subject, Seymour Martin Lipset:

  • America’s unique ideology “can be described in five words: liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism, and laissez faire.”

Lipset’s terms can be defined as follows:

  • Liberty – the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views.
  • Egalitarianism – a philosophical thought system that emphasizes equality and equal treatment across gender, religion, economic status and political beliefs. One of the major tenets of egalitarianism is that all people are fundamentally equal.
  • Individualism – the habit or principle of being independent and self-reliant; a social theory favoring freedom of action for individuals over collective or state control.
  • Populism – a political doctrine that appeals to the interests and conceptions (such as fears) of the general people, especially contrasting those interests with the interests of the elite.
  • Laissez faire – abstention by governments from interfering in the workings of the free market.

Clearly, conservatives have a stronger predilection toward individualism and laissez faire, but their historical preference toward liberty has probably been compromised by the Religious Right. And arguably progressives have a stronger predilection toward egalitarianism and populism.

So, with conservatives and progressives equally tied to American exceptionalism, why do conservatives give full-throated allegiance to the concept while progressives tend to shy away?

My guess – the values of individualism and laissez faire are becoming more dominant in America over the values of populism and egalitarianism.

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