Tag Archives: Constitution

Obama discovers American exceptionalism


Obama discovers American exceptionalism

            Among the welter of ironies concerning Pres. Vladimir Putin’s op-ed for The New York Times on the zig-zaggingSyria crisis is that Ras’ ghostwriter has however haphazardly touched on the fundamental issue. Given the arguments and syntax, I suspect the ghost’s first language was American, not Russian, something I will leave to future political exegesis. But one of the things this propagandist does by indirection is to identify Pres. Barack Hussein Obama’s utter intellectual confusion.

There is certainly no reason why the mediocrity who now has through the vagaries of history slipped into the throne of the tsars would know. But the question of “American exceptionalism” played a role in the arguments leading up to Josef Stalin’s becoming the Soviet Union’s bloody dictator and arbiter of the powerful international Communist movement.

Before the Moscow Trials of the mid-30s when Stalin settled all political scores by reducing his enemies by a head as he once joked, when there were still convoluted arguments over international Marxism inside the Communist world, American exceptionalism was an issue. In 1929 Jay Lovestone took off for Moscow to plead his sudden dismissal as U.S. Party chairman. At a meeting of the Comintern, the supposedly independent directorate of world Communism,. Lovestone argued that Communism would not come in the U.S. through revolution. Given his independent character and living standard, Lovestone argued, the American worker was not of the European, Asian and African “proletariat” whom Karl Marx’ had promised would be “the gravediggerers of capitalism and forerunner of The Revolution”.

But Stalin was having none of it. In fact, as Lovestone told me, he barely escaped Vladimir Lenin’s self-appointed heir. Only through the assistance of the American Communist capitalist Julius Hammer, father of his more famous son Armand Hammer who with Soviet assistance became an international oil figure after World War II, Lovestone sneaked out of Russia. He came back to the U.S. to found, briefly, the American Revolutionary Communist Party. How he escaped assassination as was the fate of so many of Stalin’s enemies, even those abroad, is a bit mysterious. But decades later Lovestone went on to become collaborator with George Meany, the old plumber who headed the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations. Together with the infant Central Intelligence Agency, they broke the hold of Moscow’s International Federation of Trade Unions on Western European labor trade unions at the outset of The Cold War, crucial in bringing the European Social Democratic parties, particularly the West German SPD, into the anti-Communist alliance.

It is very unlikely that Putin, a quintessential Russian secret police thug, knows much of this history. He was an unknown foreign agent until Russian Pres. Boris Yeltsin plucked him from obscurity to protect Yeltsin’s corrupt “Family” of hangerons when that old drunkard exited power. [Markus Wolf, lifelong legendary head of Stassi, the enormous network of informers and enforcers who kept the East German state alive in The Cold War, quipped: “If he [Putin] spent 15 years [as liaison between the Soviet NKVD/KGB and Stassi at their joint training school] in Dresden, and I didn’t know him, he couldn’t have been much”.]

In America, Lovestone’s sectarian argument was never settled over how to gain influence for the miniscule American Communist Party camouflaging their more important espionage for Moscow. The argument, like the American Communists themselves, was victim of the gyrations of the “Party line”, subservient to Moscow’s international strategy including Stalin’s brief alliance with Hitler that brought on World War II. For a short period when Stalin was “Good Old Uncle Joe” in FDR’s Washington, the essential ally against the Nazis, the American Party under Earl Browder preached gradualism. [These stories never end: Browder’s grandson now wages a bitter argument with Putin over seizure of his extensive investments in Yeltsin’s Russia and the murder of his Moscow lawyer and collaborator.]

But American exceptionalism is framed in more elegant terms as a part of the intellectual life of The Republic over its two centuries. For, singularly. unlike other nation states organized under the aegis of the Westphalian System [Treaty of 1648], the U.S. has no claim to a long history, a common race or ethnicity or even language characterizing the state. [Benjamin Franklin, horrified at the cacophony of German Anabaptist voices on the streets of Philadelphia during the hot summer of 1781 when the U.S. constitution was being framed in secret, toyed with the idea of writing in English as the official language of the new Republic.]

The U.S. was, from its outset, an ideological construct, an original — if heavily borrowing on what The Founders as children of the European Enlightenment saw as the heritage of the democracies of Greece and Republican Rome. It did not celebrate a unified cultural ethos as did France, even the “United” kingdom, and later Italy and Germany. Instead, the American Republic was and is a political concept to insure the rights and privileges of a truly multicultural people to whom, unlike the European nation states, it ultimately owed its genius and power.

That complicated concept has been from the earliest days of The Republic the essence of “American exceptionalism”, the idea that because of the formation and nature of the country, it was different from other nation states in a fundamental way. This distinction has given a sense of mission to the American Republic – not the “gloire” of France, for example, but The Republic’s obligation by its very nature to espouse a new kind of national and international morality.

From the days of its earliest religious minorities seeking tolerance in The New World, Americans have always thought themselves “special”as Puritan lawyer John Winthrop proclaimed in 1640 aboard the Arabella enroute to Massachusetts:

For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world.

Or whether it was the Deist Thomas Jefferson, writing in the Declaration of Independence:

[A]nd accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Or Abraham Lincoln presiding over the greatest American crisis, in his famous Gettysburg Address:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Or Ronald Reagan, the 20th century statesman bidding goodbye to public life:

“I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life…. And how stands the city on this winter night? … After 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true to the granite ridge, and her glow has held no matter what storm. And she’s still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.”

In a sense, it does not matter whether, indeed, the U.S. were “the New Jerusalem”. More important perhaps is that American leaders throughout their history have accepted the concept that The Republic was “different” from other countries, and therefore had a mission that went beyond the simple pursuit of its existence as a nation.

It was perhaps inevitable, if there is such a thing as inevitability, that when the U.S. emerged from the near suicide of the West in two bloody world wars as the overwhelmingly most powerful country with its vast economy and population, the concept of exceptionalism would be applied to international relations. Indeed, however unsuccessfully, three generations earlier Pres. Woodrow Wilson had proclaimed U.S. entry into World War I as “the war to end all wars” and his formulation of the concept of the League of Nations to settle international disputes was part of that American “mission”.

Again, ironically, despite the fact they drew much of their inspiration from Wilson’s “progressivism”, part and parcel of Obama and his supporters’ credo in pursuit of their ambition “to transform” the nation was rejection of  “exceptionalsim”. In one of his too many casual public statements, Obama dismissed it out of hand. At the NATO Summit in Strasbourg, France, in 2009, he said sarcastically:

I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.

But on Sept. 10, only four years later, in his address to the nation on the Syrian crisis, Obama reversed that view as he floated in and out of issues:

My fellow Americans, for nearly seven decades, the United States has been the anchor of global security.  This has meant doing more than forging international agreements — it has meant enforcing them.  The burdens of leadership are often heavy, but the world is a better place because we have borne them.

In all the rapid permutations of the Syrian Crisis, it has taken [Ras] Putin’s numskull ghost writer to recognize that Obama, too, has come around to recognizing “American exceptionalism” — for better or for worse.

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Picking up the pieces


When a young, flibbertigibbet reporter asked the old Edwardian Harold Macmillan what might derail implementing the prime minister’s promised political agenda, he rejoined, “Events, dear boy, events!” For pseudo-aristocrat that he might have been – his grandfather was a Scottish crofter, his mother quintessentially Midwestern American – Macmillan knew well and had been a victim of the vagaries of human life,  that make plans just that, plans. [He almost died of wounds suffered in World War I.]

Macmillan’s maxim is one always to be remembered when, for example, attempting to discern where current trends will take the U.S.

Any serious attempt at calculating where the policies – or lack thereof – of the Obama Administration will guide the U.S. and the world is therefore conceit rather than speculation. But certain it is that even though there is another three years to go, it’s highly unlikely that Pres. Barrack Obama will either change his views, or even should he have an epiphany, he could now limit the enormous damage he already has done.

For Mr. Obama has not only made mistakes common to human frailty and any American president faced with the role’s enormous demands on intellect and character. He has, in fact, also turned his back on so many fundamental concepts and values at home and abroad. His successor, whoever he may be and from whatever corner of the American political spectrum he [or she] may come, will be beset with the enormity of the struggle to right the ship of state.

The Obama Administration has left a sorry trail of not only policy destruction but intellectual debris. For better or more likely for worse, it will require a period not only of assimilation but of radical readjustment to continue what has been by any estimate the remarkable history of the American experiment. Whatever else he intended and has accomplished; Mr. Obama indeed would have partially achieved a “transformation” of the U.S. which has been his announced goal. In an examination of the wreckage, one finds:

  • Mr. Obama and his colleagues have made new contributions to the political concept, always rampant in American life since the late 19th century, that the U.S. Constitution was basically flawed and superannuated. Therefore, it has been argued, many of its basic concepts had to be honed through “progressive” readjustment to, admittedly, the revolutionary events of contemporary life. In the process, the incredibly inspired concepts of separation of powers, federalism and counterbalancing of power – even at the cost of occasional temporary impasse –should be sacrificed for expediency and ”efficiency”. Mr. Obama’s continued exercise of legislative and judicial power forsworn by the Constitution to the executive, but held in reserve for the other two branches of government, the states, and ultimately the people, has become a commonplace. Take for instance his decision to extend deadline requirements originally written into law in Obamacare, without going back to the Congress for a legislative solution demanded by proper Constitutional practice. Then there are his attorney-general’s constant public announcements of refusal to defend enacted legislation. They set an unholy precedent.
  • Mr. Obama and his colleagues have made new contributions to the calumny that U.S. power and resources generously expended abroad, particularly since the end of World War II, have been reprehensible. It is the refrain of the pseudo-radicals of the 1960s, which poor imitation of their 1920s Communist forebears who brought us the Soviet Union, perhaps the worst despotism the world has ever known. However much they have sugar-coated these judgments in contradictory rhetoric, they have confirmed and contributed further to the domestic and worldwide attacks on U.S. leadership. Fundamentally, they refuse to acknowledge that, willy-nilly, if for no other reason, Washington has had to exercise power because of the enormous worldwide impact of its dynamic system and its gigantic economy. This overall concept of American misadventure, enhanced by lack of historical perspective and knowledge of the instruments of power and government, has led to creating power vacuums in every corner of the globe. The most dramatic, of course, is in the Mideast. There for overwhelming reasons – its strategic geographic position [Suez Canal, Dardanelles, and Eastern Mediterranean], abundance of fossil fuels [a principal ingredient of worldwide industrialization] and backward native societies [retrogression in Arab and Muslim civilization] – has had to be a major concern of U.S. policy since World War II.
  • Mr. Obama and his colleagues have made new contributions to unrealistic concepts of the strengths of world government as a replacement for the exercise of U.S. power. Even those idealists who see supranationalism as the ultimate goal of international relations have had to recognize that for historical and other reasons, the current United Nations is a corrupt and dysfunctional organization yet, at best, to prove itself. However seemingly realistic at the time, for example, the creation of the Security Council with permanent members as the driving force of the organization has turned out to be one of its greatest weaknesses. The current Security Council’s “big power” composition with its vetoes neither represents the current balance of world power nor an ability to pursue its goal of maintaining world peace and order. The plethora of UN subsidiary  technocratic and cultural organizations are something of a bitter joke – e.g. the world’s worst tyrannies presiding over human rights councils, nuclear watchdogs unable to recognize much less to halt proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, cultural activities inherently prejudiced and inconsequential, scandal-ridden and ineffective peace-keeping efforts, etc. All of this might be rationalized as the inevitable part of an effort to create something beyond a comity of nation states. But to actually entrust it with authority and decision-making, to ask it to substitute for national and multinational alliances, is infantile and only creates new problems.
  • Mr. Obama and his colleagues have sought to defuse world conflict and the, admittedly, disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, by refusing to acknowledge the new long-term threat to world peace and stability. For whatever reason, the President insists on ignoring the basic thrust of worldwide terrorism, that is, its foundation in Islamic radicalism which alas! relies on centuries-old twisted interpretations of a religion. He and his advisors have refused to identify Islamic terrorism for what it is. They have in effect denigrated the shock and mobilization which followed the 9/11 attack on American soil from great distance – a confirmation of the new life-threatening strategic aspects of U.S. defense. Obama’s U.S. is now as vulnerable to attack. And while the Obama Administration relies, thankfully, on the accumulated enormous technological and bloodied superiority of the American military, Washington now runs the risk of minimizing them in future engagements with potential new unforeseen adversaries.
  • Mr. Obama and his colleagues have sought to minimize and discredit the role of entrepreneurial capitalism, which with all its faults has built the largest economy and most egalitarian society in world history. A campaign to substitute programs of government-enforced social equality for the traditional American concept of equality of opportunity cripples recovery from a traditional – if more severe – business cycle. Washington has exaggerated and increased the role of dependency on government redistribution of wealth – with all its notorious inadequacies – as part of the American civilization. There is proper concern that this movement toward more and more bureaucratic encroachment and dependency may destroy the essential fabric of the American economic miracle of the last two centuries, individual initiative.

Returning to Mr. Macmillan’s admonition, unforeseen happenings may change radically change all this, that is, the effects of the Obama Administration, even with the likelihood it will continue present patterns until 2017. Such turnabouts have come in the recent past: the largely unanticipated Reagan Revolution. But the “logical” outlook is that the U.S. and the world are likely to suffer even more instability and decline in economic opportunity awaiting a change in U.S. leadership.

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Washington’s “political” class is blinging out!


           A couple of decades ago when that temple of conspicuous consumption, Neiman Marcus, opened another store in metropolitan Washington, my old friend and astute political observer, the late Nat McKitterick, warned me we were lost.

For it was about then that – “a political class” – was becoming apparent in the nation’s capital. It was a new phenomenon. Those of us who knew Washington pre-World War II., remember how it largely emptied out on the weekends when the government elite departed for hometowns. The wretched climate in the former swamp meant summer holidays were forced on the bureaucracy when the thermometer maxed out, then without the now ubiquitous air conditioning. In an era when the country depended less on Washington delving directly into our inner most reaches [and pockets], part-time government, or something approaching that, could be tolerated if not welcomed.

Certainly the Founders wanted the new Republic to have limited government, peopled by a constantly fluctuating hierarchy composed of a wide range of citizens with other professions and livelihoods. True, eight of the original 55 men who participated in framing the Constitution were sometime politicians. And fourteen were rich enough to own slaves. George Washington, himself, was not only a slave owner but one of the richest men in the New World. Eighteen framers might be called “speculators” in land and finance. Still, they dreamed of a regime in which the power of the state would be lodged at its lowest level and therefore more responsive to the will of the people.

And, indeed, at the insistence of “the radicals” they immediately adopted the ten first Constitutional amendments to guarantee the people’s rights, changes most of which had been discussed earlier. They were adopted to ease the document’s approval from the various states’ legislatures, jealous of their power and fearful of a central government. The tenth amendment put it in unambiguous 18th century prose: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

The reasoning was clear: a ruling political elite was the nightmare of the Founders, especially those ideologues committed from the beginning to the Revolution against the British crown. Their opposition arose from an overweening King and Parliament repeat and Parliament which had usurped their rights as Englishmen. Steady progress of Anglo-Saxon individualism and strength of new and growing centers of power in Great Britain had erased the once divine right of kings. And then the power of the barons, squeezed reluctantly from John, gave way to a London elite which governed, but in part still based on aristocracy. That was not to be, the Founders hoped, in, after all, what was their Republic modeled on Greek popular democracy and the Roman worship of the law. [Benjamin Franklin, according to legend, famously quipped when asked by a constituent what had come of the secret constitutional conclave, and he replied, “A Republic, Madam, if you can keep it!”.]

But over two centuries that original intent, as undeniable as it is, has been chipped away “in order to form a more perfect union” and to meet the growing needs of a vast, new land and population and the effects of a continuing industrial revolution. By the time the U.S. finally assumed its obligations as a world power, in fact, as a superpower, in the post World War II environment, that process had gathered new, rapid momentum.

On The Hill, the old bourbon-and-branchwater boys gave way to new blow-haired pseudo-sophisticated Congressional staffers, who incidentally, didn’t know how to draft legislation. In the Congress, more and more seats were “inherited” – either through DNA or through gerrymandering which now was based on class, ethnicity and color rather than on old machine politics handing out a Christmas turkey. The two-year term in the House, intended to insure a rapid turnover close to the electorate, of necessity turned into permanent campaigning. The judicial system which more or less had bucked Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “court-packing” successfully in the mid-30s succumbed increasingly to politicalization – with sociologists rather than legal scholars providing psychoanalytical analysis for decision-making on school desegregation, and a couple of decades later, abortion, rather than resorting on the old torts.

In one of those vaunted reforms with unintended consequences [The 1883 Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act and all is subsequent additions], the effort to insulate the federal bureaucracy from the corruption of political “spoils” created an independent but self-aggrandizing bureaucracy. So much so that sheer dereliction of duty – as witnessed in the current Congressional hearings – is hard to punish with dismissal much less economic sanctions and imprisonment. Watching Committee television hearings, we have seen the apotheosis of the trendy, smirking, self-important, arrogant, self-anointed bureaucrat, defying elected inquisitor politicians – who, however tainted themselves, recognized the dangerous politicalization of the tax system has reached new and dangerous heights.

Grown like Topsy is a class of bureaucrats, political appointees supposedly in their command, reinforced by their K Street lobbyist appurtenances and an increasingly kept mass media and blabbering tax-free, high-paid foundations with pretenses for intellectuality. These latter all too often simply reflect the least common denominator on thinking about any strategy or policy. A systemic revolving door of cushy jobs await any government executive who falls from his seat – until the hoped for next election either brings him back or he continues to work with his alter egos in what is laughingly called the private sector.

Look around and you see the incredible character of our new political elite. They unashamedly reward themselves until the District of Columbia [despite its poverty-stricken Black ghetto] and the surrounding Maryland and Virginia counties have the country’s highest per capita incomes. Alas! The demise of the Founders’ effort for a politically neutral federal territory! And even with the Dulles Corridor information technology industry, you would be hard pressed to find productive sources other than intra-government relations.

To describe the relationship among the inhabitants of Georgetown, Langley, Bethesda, FriendshipHeights, and the other ‘golden ghettoes” of suburban Washington as incestuous would be magnificent understatement. These denizens are often tied by kinship – the former Internal Revenue Service head who presided when it targeted conservative organizations is married to the head of an Obama political organization [not audited], two major network news directors have siblings in “media relations” on the White House staff, etc., etc. They constantly hobnob in New York-priced restaurants, chatter at the plethora of cocktail parties, often vacation together in The Hamptons, Martha’s Vineyard or other plush resorts, when not taking overseas “inspection” trips at the taxpayers’ expense.

It is no wonder that such inbreeding leads to group-think. Only such relationships could produce the catastrophe of a fanatical effort to remodel at one stroke one-sixth of the U.S. economy, the medical services and health industry with its infinite and unanticipated complications. And then, of course, to continue to pursue that course when every single opinion poll in the country shows a majority of the voters oppose it. Obamacare is, in fact, the culmination of a growing tendency of “the political class” to demonstrate increasing incompetence and lack of realism in the face of the growing complexity of American economic, social and political life after the subordination of old methodology by the digital revolution. But it was the ultimate expression of a political class who knowingly and arrogantly “know” what is good for the rest of the population.

Is all lost?

The closest I have ever come to Oklahoma was as a teenage ColumbiaUniversity student I got an invitation from Phil Spitalny’s All Girl Orchestra, then playing at the Warner Bros. Theater on Broadway, to see Oklahoma! Opening that 1943 spring. I assume its freshness and authenticity is a reflection of its namesake. To this observer it seems if one wants an antidote to what is happening in Washington, which inspires faith in the American ethos and its political dreams, he must turn to the victims of the recent Oklahoma tornadoes. Even the mainstream media, so often given to stigmatizing ordinary Americans as boobs [“who cling to guns, or religion”], had interview after interview with survivors who expressed their acceptance of the inevitability of life’s disasters but determination to adhere to old Oklahoman and American principles of self-help and perseverance. And I doubt that many of them would recognize a Los Rudos cocktail — with cilantro. As the Communists were want to say, it is not accident that not a single Oklahoma county voted for Obama in 2012.

Therein, perhaps, still lies the essence and the hope of the Founders’ American dream.

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