Thursday, November 18, 2010

Matt Miller, Mensch

Matt Miller triggered a thought in my head about a column I've been meaning to write for a few weeks now, but life has intervened.
America is a deeply paranoid nation. On the one hand, we have this deep feeling of exceptionalism. This grandeur manifests itself in wars of aggression, arrogant foregin policies, treating our allies like assistants and our enemies as nuisances, instead of people to be engaged and either defeated or deflected.
On the other hand, as I alluded to earlier today, we have an equally deep feeling of persecution. So much so that to ask us to sacrifice for the greater good of the nation would be like eliminating Social Security: a political third rail that no one would dare touch unless they were in a tank full of piranha. And even then, I think most politicos would try to reason with the fish first.
It's the fact that we swing back and forth between these two extremes that troubles me. It's one thing to be jingoistic, to really believe you're exceptional and to behave as if its true.
We did that after World War II. Having defeated the Axis alongside our allies, we set about rebuilding both sides. We could be magnanimous, despite being just a few years removed from an economic crisis that saw a huge number of our own citizens suffer famine, dislocation, and deaths both at home and in a war spanning the globe, despite only barely having come of age.
Today, we argue over whether people about to lose their homes should be given a few bucks to see if maybe they can make it beyond the next month. And forget foreign aid. if it ain't got oil, we ain't interested. We've become that old man with the shotgun and the inviting lawn.
Miller says, "Does anyone else think there's something a little insecure about a country that requires its politicians to constantly declare how exceptional it is? A populace in need of this much reassurance may be the surest sign of looming national decline." I'd argue that the decline began long ago, that America for some silly reason got it in its collective head that there was this big-ass target on its back and started looking over its shoulder instead of ahead.