Monday, December 6, 2010

Budiansky Strikes Again

Stephen Budiansky, the Liberal Curmudgeon, offers a scathing critique of the many recent conservative hymns to American exceptionalism:

I can think of many ways America is exceptional: institutions guided by the rule of law; a longstanding commitment (going back to the earliest days of the early republic) to seek a more just and humane international order; a willingness to confront our own imperfections and failings and correct them (slavery, most notably; the disfranchisement of African Americans and women); a tolerance for dissent that remains extraordinarily resilient.

Yet every one of these claims to genuine exceptionalism springs from exactly the opposite impulse from the self-satisfied jingoism that we're hearing ad nauseam from the brave souls standing up for American exceptionalism.
Recent defenses of American exceptionalism remind me of Robert Jensen's critique in Citizens of the Empire, of which I wrote a few years back:
If your 10-year-old, Joe, claimed to be the greatest 10-year-old on Earth, you would explain to him "that people are a wonderfully complex mix of many characteristics that are valued differently by different people, and that it would be impossible to make any sensible assessment of what makes one person the greatest." If Joe grew to adulthood and still insisted he was the greatest, you would have to conclude that "Either he is mentally unstable or he's an asshole." Jensen goes on to say, "It's painfully obvious that the best evidence that Joe is not the greatest is his claim to be that, for we can observe that throughout history people who have something in them that we might call 'greatness' tend not to proclaim their own superiority" (pages 4-5).
In a separate post, Budiansky also sites this graph from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (based on Congressional Budget Office data), showing where our much-bemoaned deficits will come from over the next decade:

Graph of deficits 2009 - 2019, showing they are almost completely caused by the Iraq/Afghan war, tax cuts, and the economic downturn
Note that the Bush-era tax cuts (including the ones for the middle class) are the biggest piece of the problem.

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