I'm going to have to pull this together into one coherent thread, somehow. In no more than 500 words. It stands right now at 486. Wish me luck. ; )
What ever happened to American Exceptionalism? Remember that? America was going to be different, exceptional. The first to try a radical experiment in self-government. Who, the question was, is better fit to govern a people than those people themselves? No one! Government of the people, by the people, for the people!
What happened? Is it possible that the right turn we took thirty years ago was really a wrong turn? That despite the lies of the Vietnam War and the deceptions of Watergate, the way to Exceptionalism isn’t to kill government but to reform it?
The old way of government, before the rise of Liberalism and the rights of man, was for the few to rule and the many to serve. The few owned all the land, the many worked it. The few had plenty, the many sometimes starved. The many paid taxes so the few could live in luxury. The many fought wars so the few might increase their wealth.
Then came The Enlightenment and the idea that all are equal, with equal rights to life, liberty and happiness. And a conservative movement to try to protect the old ways.
But ideas don’t die easily and Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson articulated these ideas in the new world and said, we can do this! And a new nation was born, “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
Now we are engaged in a great debate, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. At issue is whether we can survive as an exceptional nation, a nation with equality as an ideal. The Preamble to the Constitution states that we form this government to “establish Justice … (and to) promote the general Welfare.” Worthy, noble goals. How best to achieve them? By insisting that government get out of the way of profit-seekers?
No one doubts that humans are motivated by self-interest. The idea that people could ever be motivated solely by an interest in the common good is beyond naïve. But just as far-fetched is the notion that we can achieve the society that we desire by everyone always pursuing his own, narrow self-interest.
Consider tax policy. For thirty years we’ve tried to tax-cut our way to prosperity. Has it worked? I guess it depends on how we measure. Do we look at the richest one per cent and see how they’re doing? Or do we look at the median America household and see where it stands?
As taxes on upper income levels have dropped, income disparity has risen. Is this “good” for the community? How? As more and more wealth has accrued to the few the “misery index” has risen. As the middle class has shrunk the prison population has more than doubled. Coincidence?
For thirty years our economy has been boom and bust with dot com bubbles, Savings and Loan scandals and bank bailouts.