The Corner

Sweet Diversity

Sometimes I think that we on the right are the only defenders of diversity. America is a peculiar nation — but there have long been those who want it to be less peculiar, and more like other nations. This is the theme of my opening item in today’s Impromptus.

Obama is plumping for paid maternity leave, as he campaigns for Democrats around the country. He said, “If France can figure this out, we can figure this out.” Yes, because the French economy is the model for us all, right? Our president further said, “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.”

Ever since the beginning, a lot of people have liked America precisely because, in many respects, we’re on our lonesome — i.e., different from other nations.

It would be nice if Obama and his friends could acknowledge trade-offs in life: You can have a social democracy, or a social-welfare state; or you can have a dynamic country, loaded with opportunity, which grows and prospers. It is apparently impossible to have both.

Our traditional way of freedom can be hard, heaven knows. Capitalism can be dislocating and bruising. That’s why Marxists have always been able to score against it. “‘Freedom!’” they snort. “Yeah, the freedom to sleep under bridges.” Many of us have experienced the bite of capitalism, as well as its caress.

Richard Pipes, the historian, was once on Firing Line with WFB. He pointed out that many Europeans have a very comfortable life in their social democracies. Café society, backed up by governmental largesse, can be very pleasant. Just sit back and enjoy it.

But, as Pipes will be the first to tell you, Europeans have lived under the protection of the American military umbrella. And the young have a terrible time finding jobs. They need an outlet, an escape. And eventually, society at large “runs out of other people’s money,” as Margaret Thatcher said.

America is not for everybody, but it’s for a lot of people, owing to its distinctiveness. I don’t demand that every other nation be like America. I don’t demand “fundamental transformation” so that, suddenly, they become Dubuque. But I say, “Let Poland be Poland” (remember that one?), and let America be America. (With appropriate reforms, of course — and those we can argue about.)

P.S. Toward the end of my column, I have a language note: “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).”

A reader writes, “I grew up saying — and I think I still do say — ‘melk,’ instead of ‘milk.’ Put the two together, and you have a vanella melkshake.”

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