When I was in high school and college, learning about the world, figuring it out, I often heard that America was wrong because it was different from other nations. We were especially different from Europe. And to be like Europe was next to godliness or something.
I heard about our stubborn differentness with regard to economic life. Also with regard to such issues as the death penalty. “Only nine other nations have the death penalty!” (I don’t remember what the number was; but it was some number.) And these other nations would be godawful dictatorships.
Gun control was another one. “Japan has only six gun deaths a year, and we have 1.2 million!” (or whatever).
Now, the death penalty or gun control might have been right or wrong. But the argument from difference — “We must not be unlike other nations” — never cut ice with me. Why? Probably because I knew that majorities weren’t always right. And because I knew that people all over the world cherished America, and longed to come here, and did come here. They couldn’t all be foolish, could they? They weren’t banging down the doors to get into Bulgaria, were they?
I thought of all this when reading about President Obama and maternity leave. A news article said, “The president is touting paid maternity in the midst of a midterm election campaign focused on women voters, without describing the details of how he would fund such a system. ‘If France can figure this out, we can figure this out,’ Obama said.”
That sounds like the kids back in the dorm: “Well, France does it!” Incidentally, should the French economy be one that Americans should envy or adopt?
Obama also said this: “There is only one developed country in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave, and that is us. And that is not the list you want to be on — on your lonesome. It’s time to change that.”
The merits or demerits of paid maternity leave aside: I don’t mind being on my lonesome now and then — do you? There is an old saying: “One with God is a majority.”
Obama has protested that he is a great believer in American exceptionalism. “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being,” he said in his recent West Point speech. I think he protests too much. In my experience, the Left — the American Left — has always been terribly embarrassed by American exceptionalism, and wants more than anything to blend in with the other nations in the world.
As Bush 41 put it so memorably, there are people who want America to be just “another pleasant country on the U.N. roll call, somewhere between Albania and Zimbabwe.”
Now, I will admit to something: When discussion turns to nuclear power, I have often said, “The French are perfectly fine with it! The French are mature on the subject of nuclear power!” But I excuse myself on these grounds: The Left in our country, which is strongly against nuclear power, is usually impressed with the French.
Anyway, I will close this item with a time-honored French expression: Vive la différence. You betcha.
‐Check this out: “Pentagon Says Missile Defense System Hit Target in Test.” (Article here.) Good, good. In March of last year — the 30th anniversary of Reagan’s SDI speech — I looked into the progress of our program. I talked to many experts about it. I did a piece for National Review, and a series here on NRO.
This is what I concluded, in simplest terms: We can do this (missile defense) if we want to — but only if we want to. It’s a matter of political will, primarily. And that ebbs and flows with voters’ presidential choices.
‐Our old friend Radek Sikorski is in the news, involuntarily. I say “our old friend” because he used to write for NR and is now Poland’s foreign minister. He was secretly tape-recorded saying candid things about his country’s foreign relations. Another friend of ours, Daniel Hannan, has blasted the bejesus out of him for what he said about Britain.
And America? I will excerpt a BBC report:
. . . Mr Sikorski told former Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski at a restaurant in Warsaw early this year that “the Polish-US alliance isn’t worth anything”.
Using vulgar language, he compared Polish subservience to the US to giving oral sex. He also warned that such a stance would cause “conflict with the Germans, Russians”.
He also used a racially loaded term to describe the Polish stance — “murzynskosc”, which suggests a slave mentality.
“[We are] suckers, total suckers. The problem in Poland is that we have shallow pride and low self-esteem,” Mr Sikorski was quoted as saying.
FWIW — i.e., for what it’s worth — I believe Radek is 100 percent right.
#page#‐I felt a jolt when I read this news item, and I’ll tell you why in a moment. The item begins as follows:
Despite protests from Moscow, Moldova’s prime minister says he believes his firm pro-European stance will benefit the country’s relations with both the West and Russia in the long term.
Iurie Leanca said that Moldova’s entry into an association agreement with the European Union Friday will make it a “more predictable country which is good for our partners in the West and . . . in the East.”
Not long ago, I was at a dinner party, when the discussion turned to Ukraine. My host, an experienced and urbane man (of the Left), said that Ukraine had made trouble for itself by wanting to join the EU and so on. You could not expect Putin and Russia to put up with such moves. I responded that democratic countries ought to make their own decisions, including about alliances.
He retorted, “That’s just rhetoric.”
Well, I may be wrong, but it is certainly, sincerely what I believe.
‐I have a friend who is doing some work in Japan at the moment. He said that one of the things he likes best about the culture is its politeness — particularly the bowing.
Here is a news photo, which I found somewhat moving. The accompanying article says, “Japanese newspapers splashed front-page photos on Tuesday of a male Tokyo assemblyman bowing deeply to a female colleague after admitting that he had heckled her with a sexist remark last week.”
‐In recent days, I have written a couple of times about Juan Carlos in Spain, who abdicated in favor of his son, Prince Felipe (now King, I should say). A reader writes,
A propos Juan Carlos, why can’t we call the next king Philip, thus emphasising the link to such great Spanish kings as Philip II? I suspect the reason is, most graduates of schools of journalism have probably never even heard of Philip II.
Harsh, but believable.
‐Feel like some music? For a review at The New Criterion’s blog, go here. It’s of a concert by the New York Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert, conductor, and Yefim Bronfman, piano soloist.
‐A little language? The other day, I heard one of the great American pronunciations — one I grew up with: “vanella.” Not “vanilla,” but “vanella.” Why we say that, I don’t know, but we do (many Americans, that is).
‐Let’s end with some sports: I used to write rather harshly against soccer. I likened it to the metric system: Both of these things were forced on us in middle school, by people who were ashamed of American exceptionalism, and wanted us to be more like the rest of the world. Neither soccer nor the metric system took, among my crowd.
(Unwittingly — or unintentionally — I have returned to the theme I began this column with: American exceptionalism and its discontents.)
Anyway, I don’t want to rehash all that. I have reformed (sort of) on the question of soccer, largely under the guidance of my friend Duncan Currie, late of NR, now a whiz on Capitol Hill. He is a soccer man, a model of common sense, and as American as apple pie.
In recent days, I have heard soccer broadcasts coming out of all sorts of establishments, as I have walked through New York. I heard Americans whoop it up after our team scored a goal against Portugal. I am finding the World Cup quite a nice and positive thing (though I would of course rather slit my wrists than watch it).
My days of being a soccer Grinch are over. But the thing about Grinchiness — at least mine — is that it can return. In any event, have a good one!