Is anyone surprised that Jeb Bush is mimicking the liberal approach of lionizing dead conservatives at the expense of those who are still alive? Who’s the next conservative icon to whom we don’t measure up — Goldwater? WFB? Lincoln? Add that to Margaret Spellings badmouthing school choice and Bush minion Mark McKinnon joining No Labels, among other things, and I think we can safely say we’ve had enough Bushism to last the nation’s lifetime.
And half the NYT story on Jeb’s comments was about amnesty for illegals and trying to re-litigate the 2007 smackdown his brother received. What part of “No” do these guys not understand?
Apropos of this, David Brooks writes in today’s Times that our political problems are partly due to the fact that Americans are not good enough followers; it’s easy to caricature this point, but there may be something to it. From his column:
I don’t know if America has a leadership problem; it certainly has a followership problem. Vast majorities of Americans don’t trust their institutions. That’s not mostly because our institutions perform much worse than they did in 1925 and 1955, when they were widely trusted. It’s mostly because more people are cynical and like to pretend that they are better than everything else around them. Vanity has more to do with rising distrust than anything else.
On the other hand, while “vanity” may be part of the answer, the much more important cause of a lack of “followership” among Americans is that their political leaders, like Jeb, no longer identify with them in any meaningful way and are thus no longer accepted as legitimate.
One of my professors in college described the problem of legitimacy in the post-colonial Third World this way: Before Europeans arrived, everyone was a “Traditional”, the rulers being big T’s, if you will, and the hoi polloi little t’s. With the advent of European rule, the local elites became Moderns, big M’s, as it were, while the commoners remained little t’s. They thus no longer viewed the world through the same lens and so the public viewed (and still views) the elites and elite institutions as different from them, foreign almost. (This is why I’m such a booster of monarchic elements in government in Africa, like Botswana’s House of Chiefs — they can provide traditional legitimacy to modern government.)
We now have a similar problem of our own, with a patriotic public and a post-American elite. As Sam Huntington wrote, “The central distinction between the public and elites is not isolationism versus internationalism, but nationalism versus cosmopolitanism.” Huntington quotes from Sir Walter Scott: “Breathes there the man with soul so dead / Who never to himself hath said: / ‘This is my own, my native Land?’”, and answers:
Yes, the number of dead souls is small but growing among America’s business, professional, intellectual and academic elites. Possessing in Scott’s words, “titles, power and pelf”, they also have decreasing ties with the American nation. Coming back to America from a foreign strand, they are not likely to be overwhelmed with deep feelings of commitment to their “native land.” Their attitudes and behavior contrast with the overwhelming patriotism and nationalistic identification of the rest of the American public. A major gap is growing in America between the dead or dying souls among its elites and its “Thank God for America” public. This gap was temporarily obscured by the patriotic rallying after September 11. In the absence of repeated comparable attacks, however, the pervasive and fundamental forces of economic globalization make it likely that the denationalizing of elites will continue.
This is central reason for “followership” deficit Brooks identifies and the driver of a number of specific policy issues, not just immigration and multiculturalism, but the whole collection of questions that John Fonte sums up in his fine book: Sovereignty or Submission: Will Americans Rule Themselves or be Ruled by Others? (reviewed by John Bolton in the new CRB here).