Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Reigniting the Birthers

Hawaii's new Democrat governor, Neil Abercrombie, has decided he's going to put an end to all the speculation about the President's birthplace by producing the long form birth certificate that the "birthers" say is the only way to prove that Obama is really a natural born citizen of the U.S.

Well, we hope he does so that we can put an end to what has been a bizarre chapter in our presidential politics.

We have a president who himself seems unwilling to prove that he really was born in the United States, which, of course, is a condition for eligibility for the office he holds. This reluctance has been like gasoline on the flames of doubt millions of Americans harbor about the man, and now Abercrombie thinks he's doing the President a favor by settling the matter without the President himself having to get involved.

Perhaps he will, but he has really blundered unless he knows with certainty that the birth certificate actually exists. If it turns out that he can't produce it after having boasted that he would the whole controversy is going to come roaring back, and it won't just be a few easily dismissable "fringies" who'll be wondering aloud whether the man in the White House really is an American citizen.

Even Chris Matthews, who often speaks of the President in accents one associates with adolescent girls worshipping their teen idol, and who is at pains to distinguish himself from the "birthers", sounds just like one in this clip:

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The issue had pretty much drifted off stage, actually. Why Abercrombie chose to yank it back into the limelight is a mystery unless he knows for sure the certificate exists. If, however, he's just assuming that it does, and it turns out that he can't produce it, he may find himself a leper in the Democrat party and widely regarded as a buffoon on the national stage.

It'll be interesting to see whether Abercrombie actually goes ahead with his boast or whether he suddenly has an epiphany and realizes that if there is no certificate for him to present to the world he will single-handedly and quite unnecessarily have created a very serious problem for the President, the nation, and himself.

American Exceptionalism

Rich Lowery at National Review Online walks us through a little academic exercise by asking us to evaluate which of the world's historically (since the mid-17th century) consequential nations has been the greatest in terms of power, prosperity, and moral goodness.

His conclusion is bound to delight American exceptionalists (like myself) and infuriate the Chomskyites, but there really is only one contender. After considering a number of European candidates (No Asian, Middle Eastern, or South American nations made the finals) Lowery concludes with this:
Which brings us to the U.S. We had the advantage of jumping off from the achievement of the British. We founded our nation upon self-evident truths about the rights of man, even if our conduct hasn’t always matched them. We pushed aside Spain and Mexico in muscling across the continent, but brought order and liberty in our wake. Our treatment of the Indians was appalling, but par for the course in the context of the time. It took centuries of mistreatment of blacks before we finally heeded our own ideals.

The positive side of the ledger, though, is immense: We got constitutional government to work on a scale no one had thought possible; made ourselves a haven of liberty for the world’s peoples; and created a fluid, open society. We amassed unbelievable wealth, and spread it widely.

Internationally, we wielded our overwhelming military and industrial power as a benevolent hegemon. We led the coalitions against the ideological empires of the 20th century and protected the global commons. We remain the world’s sole superpower, looked to by most of the world as a leader distinctly better than any of the alternatives.

Our greatness is simply a fact. Only the churlish or malevolent can deny it, or even get irked at its assertion.
True enough, and there's a very important reason to affirm this truth. Nations have a responsibility to govern justly, but there's a great deal of disagreement over what the just principles of governance are. Certainly democrats (small d), socialists, communists, fascists, and autocrats of all stripes disagree. It seems, though, that the just principles are those which maximize a nation's benefit to its citizens, maximize their freedoms, and empower them to be a force for good in the world.

The nation that has accomplished that to a greater extent than any other in modern history is the U.S., thus it's important that the principles upon which this nation was built be preserved and extended. This will happen, however, only if the American people are convinced that theirs truly is a great nation. Otherwise, the temptation to capitulate to our detractors and experiment with other forms of governance will become seductive. This is why the steady disparagement in the academy of our history is so insidious. It's not only dishonest, but it also undermines confidence in the basic goodness of our founding principles and of our people, a confidence that's necessary for America to remain great.

Essays like Lowery's are salutary in that they remind us that though we're not perfect we really have been the hope and envy of the world for the last two hundred years. We should work to keep it that way and to continuously strive to be worthy citizens of a great nation.