14 May 2008

the american party [know nothings] revisited...

i really thought this was a brilliant piece from a fellow blogger. enjoy.

The Essence of the 2008 Election, Distilled

Today's excellent Washington Post column by Harold Meyerson is required reading for any citizen who wants to halt and hopefully reverse the criminally authoritarian abuses, negligence, and maliciousness of the last several years:

...McCain's first post-primary ad proclaimed him "the American president Americans have been waiting for." Not the "strong" or "experienced" president, though those are contrasts he could seek to draw with Obama. The "American" president - because that's the only contrast through which McCain has even a chance of prevailing.

Now, I mean to take nothing away from McCain's Americanness by noting that it's Obama's story that represents a triumph of specifically American identity over racial and religious identity. It was the lure of America, the shining city on a hill, that brought his black Kenyan father here, where he met Obama's white Kansan mother. It is because America is uniquely the land of immigrants and has moved beyond a racial caste system that Obama exists, has thrived and stands a good chance of being our next president.

That's not the America, though, that the Republicans refer to in proclaiming their own Americanness. For them, "American" is a term to be used as a wedge issue, a way to distinguish their more racially and religiously homogeneous party from the historically more polyglot Democrats.

* * *

There are good reasons Republicans are focusing on identity rather than issues this year: In poll after poll, there's not a single major issue on which the public agrees with them or their presumptive nominee. Not Iraq, certainly. Not the economy. Should the election turn on the question of "What are you going to do for America?" rather than "Are you a real American?" Republicans are doomed.

* * *

What remains for the GOP is a campaign premised more on issues of national identity, aimed largely at that portion of our population for which "American" is synonymous with "white" and "Christian," than any national campaign has been since the American Party (also known as the Know Nothings) based its 1856 campaign chiefly on Protestant bigotry against Irish and German Catholic immigrants.
Truer words never spoken.

Going further, these incisive observations also reveal a growing common ground for people of many seemingly divergent ideological stripes: the long-unfed hunger for a civic identity based not on ethnicity, race, religion or some other arbitrary, tribal criteria, but instead based on our far more enduring, fundamentally meaningful, founding national principles. Liberty. Reason. Open-mindedness. Inclusion. Rule of Law. And most of all, the keen and persistent awareness that no union is ever perfect, but must instead be judged by its willingness to reach for perfection.

For these words, some may call me an adherent of the oft-maligned philosophy of American "exceptionalism." But if I am such for remaining staunchly proud of the things about this country most deserving of pride, then I gladly stand guilty of that charge. For my love of this country contains no snarling sense of distrust or superiority over other peoples. It is, instead, the simple love that a painter has for brushes and oils, that a writer has for words, that a researcher has for knowledge. Self-sustaining. Unjealous. Steady.

Contrast that kind of love of country - shared by millions of others - with that of what now passes for the once-proud Republican Party. Pointed resentfulness, masquerading cartoonishly as patriotism. Reactionary. Thin-skinned. Tribal.

Truly, today's right-wing, love-it-or-leave-it nationalist scorn is a close cousin of racism, regionalism, and religious bigotry. These two sides of the same coin make up the often-concealed id of today's typical Republican mentality. These traits are, of course, all based on tribalism and a fear of the unknown, but also a deep-seated insecurity of purpose, fortitude, and identity. For the afflicted, the disorder of acute tribalism has even further metaphorical significance: primal thoughts huddled like cave-dwelling hominids, ever seeking shelter from a harsh, unexplainable world outside. At the same time, I would not be writing this, and you would not be reading it, if not for the many victories throughout time of the human intrepid spirit over the urge to huddle and hive.

We have seen what the predominance of incuriosity, insularity, and a bastardized hybrid of both elitism and anti-intellectualism in our government can do to this country and citizenry. We have seen the damage that frauds dressed in small-government, traditionalist costumes can wreak upon a nation. Now, a new and stark criterion forks the road ahead: more identity ploys, dog-whistles, and hostile tribalism on one side, and a return to genuine thoughtfulness for what might benefit the nation on the other.

Such is literally the choice we face in November, and probably for many elections to come. John McCain may style himself "the American president Americans have been waiting for," but each miniature, rhetorical flag waving furiously from that message now only reminds the electorate of the emptiness and belligerence that has hijacked our national identity for too long.

So let today's Republican Party run on their usual hackneyed, insular themes - and let them be decisively routed in November by the whirlwind unleashed by the implosion of their years of sneering hubris and unaccountability. Then, let the more fundamental American principles of reason, redemption, and re-evolution fill that void once again.

That, when it happens, may be the most American outcome of an American election yet, of which we Americans should be proud.


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