Smart v. Stupid
American exceptionalism fuels Republican obstructionism
- “They’re not even informed enough to know what they don’t know.”
- —Congressman Jim Moran
As near as I can tell, “exceptionalism” is a made up word only found in the phrase “American exceptionalism.” Yet that hasn’t stopped the creation of a cottage industry asserting the mythological idea. Underpinned by both religion and hubris, American exceptionalism argues that the United States is the land chosen by God to enjoy the miracles of capitalism.
According to the belief, Americans are a modern day chosen people – sorry Jews; you’re so yesterday — meant to lead the world by divine right. Divine right, of course, is a concept that used to be associated only with kings. Nowadays, it’s associated with morons.
In the ethos of American exceptionalism, we are the best at everything. We have the best health care, the best economy, the best civil society, the most freedom and the greatest opportunity. God made it so. And who are you to question God? Never you mind any facts to the contrary. Everyone knows that only over-educated liberal snobs like to use facts to find the truth.
This belief is a big factor in why Republicans in Congress imagine we can default on our debt without consequences. Because this same American exceptionalism – borrowing from it's first cousin, neoconservatism – argues that we can do whatever we want. Who can stop us, after all? We’re the top of the food chain. Everyone else is dependent on us. Screw ‘em!
Did I mention that most believers have never been outside of the U.S.? Never seeing (Or is it never looking?) is a necessary part of any self-delusion.
So here we are at the brink. Many in Congress are ready to renege on paying the debt created by a decade of government underfunding. A sneering Eric Cantor, for example, has voted to spend the money since 2001. Now he won’t vote to pay what he owes.
Republicans like to say that running the government is just like running a household. If so, then this is deciding to default on the mortgage, refusing to move out of the house and saying that’s OK because God says you are the greatest neighbor on the street. You can also forget this whole notion of just paying the interest, like the chronically under-informed Michelle Bachmann likes to argue. When a loan is due, both the interest and the principal are due. Try just paying just the interest on your car loan next month.
Meanwhile, investors are beginning a selloff of U.S. Treasuries in anticipation that they’ll lose value. The Greece crisis is near-solved and the Euro is poised to restart its march to displace the dollar as the world reserve currency. And China continues to prosper by cornering the market for green tech manufacturing. They’re competing mostly with Germany in this market, not at all with us. Meanwhile, we’re focused on protecting coal and oil profits.
Today, the word “patriot” has been co-opted by dumb crackers and “Founding Fathers” has been stolen by high school dropouts. These words now make us cringe because we know that they are used as cover for some utterly selfish argument. Real history is competing with a belief-based version that imagines great leaders and great doers were promoting not democracy, but unfettered survival of the fittest. Selfishness is exactly the opposite of what our great patriots and Framers practiced. They were defenders and creators of cooperation through government.
But I wouldn’t expect these mooks to know that. They practice a weird kind of faith-based history. It’s true because I believe it’s true. Presented with a fact, they’re reply with an “I believe…” as if it trumps as evidence. I believe that lower taxes create jobs, they say, even though there is zero evidence of that. Lower taxes didn’t break the economy, eight years of no regulatory oversight did. Lower taxes only broke the government.
House Republicans intend to default. They don’t know what they don’t know. Through the foggy lens of American exceptionalism, default has no negatives. So if default is to be avoided, it can only happen by force. The President, the Senate, House Democrats and smarter House Republicans will need to shove it down the throats of these right-wing anarchists.
American exceptionalism? It means we’re the only country heading over a cliff because we decided to believe that dumb was the new smart. Now isn’t that special…
Note: I’m off to Costa Rica for two weeks and a birthday. Look for the next column Aug. 12.
Jimmy Zuma splits his time between Washington, D.C. and Tucson. He writes the online opinion journal, Smart v. Stupid. He spent 5 years in Tucson in the early ‘80s, when life was a little slower, swamp coolers were a little more plentiful, Tucson’s legendary music scene was in full bloom, and the prevailing work ethic was “don’t - unless you have to.”