17 May 2012

Americanism of the heart

Base Republicans have to be pissed today. After all the news about people backing down on making Rev. Wright a campaign issue, now we have a Republican congressman apologizing for having said that the President isn't an American "in his heart." Rep. Coffman of Colorado expressed what seemed to be a typical Republican sentiment at a fundraising appearance last weekend, only to find himself treated as if he were a birther. Whether he is that or not remains unclear. Coffman claims today that he is confident of Barack Obama's citizenship and eligibility for the office he holds. Last Saturday, however, before he questioned the President's, er, sentimental Americanism, Coffman stated rather bluntly that "I don't know whether Barack Obama was born in this country." He didn't sound so confident then, but the impression I have is that Coffman meant that part of his remarks when he said today that he had "misspoke." On the issue of Obama's essential identity, Coffman tried to elaborate, objecting to the President's supposed notion that "America is but one nation among many equals." To think that, apparently, is to throw your loyalty into question.

Coffman was really expressing a fairly common view that Americanism is a matter of right ideas. It's often said that the U.S. is a "propositional nation," founded on an idea, as if the Declaration of Independence was the beginning rather than the culmination of a long process of separation from Great Britain. There have been other propositional nations in modern history, but the U.S. has usually fought against them in cold and hot wars. The Islamic Republic of Iran might serve as another example of a propositional nation -- and if mentioning this strikes you as an assertion of moral equivalence among propositions, so be it. I may agree with many of the propositions upon which my country is supposedly based, but I reject the idea that full membership in the nation where you were born depends on the correct answers to some secular (or not so secular) catechism. That's the logic of Stalinism and Maoism: if you didn't follow the great leader's line, wherever it went, you were a traitor. Nations are defined by people, not ideas. The national interest is not the perpetuation of any ideology, but the well being of the people who live within the nation's borders. Critics may disagree with the means President Obama employs to that end, but they dare not dispute his commitment to that end without appearing fanatically paranoid. Nor dare they dispute the end itself if they know what's good for them in an election year. What's the alternative? "It doesn't matter how many starve as long as the idea endures!" Maybe the Objectivist candidate would have the gall to say that, but more practical politicians, even Republicans, realize that, despite their own rhetoric, no idea is un-American when the American people vote for it. Are policies un-American that immiserate multitudes? I have an idea on the subject, but it's still up to the voters to figure that out for themselves.

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