As I reach the end of Stone and Kuznick's Untold History of the United States, I find myself disillusioned, actually having to change my mind about historical events and what they mean. They have convinced me that their analysis of our leadership and foreign policy over the last hundred years is correct.They bring it right up to the present moment as they discuss the disintegration of the Middle East and the way our meddling in that part of the world has caused us to lose credibility and moral authority as a country. (Not that we had much in the past, either, but people of my age grew up with pro-U.S. propaganda about how, with all its faults, America was the best country in the world, the hope of the masses, though of course under constant threat due to the envy of inferior nationalities and above all the Communists.) The drumbeat of America as the special, necessary force for good in the world goes on, with the weakened Obama leading the parade.
Obama emerges from this narrative as 100% sold on the idea of America as the country of destiny with a great free enterprise system and a market that creates wonderful innovations thanks to our creative entrepreneurs and all that sauce that most of us believe. The cream rises to the top, says America, in the best of all countries.
The ideology of American exceptionalism makes sense to Obama and other winners in the meritocracy. They are totally admiring of how the system has elevated them and thus shown its special nature, and theirs. They are elite persons whose success proves that what they do is right. Thank god we were spared a Romney presidency because in that regard he was the worst, living in his bubble of privilege.
Obama certainly has a better character than any president since Roosevelt, but is that enough? Obama's social and educational ideas are exactly the jejune ones you would expect of a person who never attended a public school and has totally bought into the idea of the meritocracy. We can solve the social ills of inner city Blacks, he believes, with charter schools and dads in the home and getting the gangs off the streets. I fear that his notions on foreign affairs may be equally simplistic, and I hope I'm wrong. Keeping Israel under some control during the last attack on Gaza was good. Maybe we'll be seeing more of this.
And it may be that Obama can break out now and become the solid leader we need. I do believe he fired Petraeus, using the General's surely well known sexual escapades against him, and removing him was a good step. One thing he could do is appoint Kerry as Secretary of State. He is the only person around Obama that seems to have a common sense approach to U.S. foreign policy. Susan Rice is the same old same old and a protegee of Hillary Clinton, who is very very hawkish and downright scary.
To me, being an American means citizenship and certain rights and duties. It means attachments to people and places I love. It does not mean that I have to make the claim that there is something transcendentally wonderful about America or being an American as opposed to being: what? Think how insulting such an idea is to the majority of the human race, who are not Americans!
Look at how the Republicans' world fell apart, because they believed that they could not fail. Do we want America to end up as a failed country? Living in our bubble until it bursts?
BTW: I've been reading critiques of Stone and Kuznick's work, and I have got to say: they have the right enemies! We know that Stalin was a villain, for Christ sake! Were they supposed to write an entire book, say, about what a villain Stalin was, just to please Jonah Goldberg? Oh, and by the way, Goldberg and his bunch just lost the election they tried to buy. In case he missed that.
More: Some people refer to Jonah Goldberg as the Pantload, or the Doughy Pantload. I would never do that! Some good input from Race Files about Goldberg here and Goldberg's pathetic notions on what it means to be an American.