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National Security & Defense

American Smallness, Cont.

Dinky, dinky, dinky. Tiny, tiny, tiny. Shrinking, shrinking, shrinking . . . “Look, honey, I shrunk America!”

I appreciated my man Pat Brennan’s post, below. It makes a lot of sense. Yet I have a rant within me, and I’m going to deliver myself of it. If you’re not in the mood for a rant, please skip!

Generations ago, when we were a much poorer country than now, we did things like host the Olympics, because we felt we should. We wanted to. Such deeds comported with our sense of ourselves — with the way we thought of our place in the world, and what we had to offer mankind.

These days, if you say “mankind,” you’re sent to diversity training, or worse.

Everything is too hard for Americans now. We can’t do anything. We can’t complete construction projects, we can’t stop Iran from getting the Bomb, we can’t host the Olympics. We whine everything to death, or green-eyeshade it to death.

We’re like some giant public-employee union, inept, incompetent, and immovable. And we’re belligerently proud of it.

Could today’s Americans have possibly carried out the Apollo project? What would the Right have said? I shudder to think.

I fear the can-do nation has become the can’t-do nation — or more accurately, the won’t-do nation.

To take a popular example, the Empire State Building was built in one year and 45 days. Can you put an addition onto your kitchen in that span of time now? Or would bureaucracy and the general lethargy prevent it?

Gee, I don’t know how Boston could possibly have prepared for the 2024 Olympics. That’s only nine years away! Who do we think we are, the Taiwanese or something?

I don’t think people have a proper sense of what public spending should be. Bill Buckley said that people wanted “free false teeth” and not things like . . . you know, the military. Virtually everyone in America gets a check from the government. Our debt is over $18 trillion. We have to start saving somewhere, somehow — especially if we don’t grow.

And here’s an idea: Let’s not host the Olympics! Yay! (In any case, the Games can be privatized, as Ueberroth proved.)

Years ago, I did some writing about public buildings and the question of beauty. In days of yore, our schools, libraries, and city halls were beautiful. You can still see them, in many places (because they were built to last).

People thought that our public buildings should inspire and ennoble. That they should breathe some high purpose. Even the prisons were beautiful, many of them! At some point, everything got boxy, ugly, and soulless.

Anyway, I was writing about this, and got a lot of hate mail, all from the right, of course. (This was before “comments,” which effectively killed hate mail. Which is nice.) The mail went essentially like this:

“If you want your fancy porticos and curlicues and gargoyles, you can pay for them out of your own pocket. Public buildings ought to be functional, and that’s it! I’m not paying for some bureaucrat to sit in the Taj Mahal. I remember when National Review used to be conservative.”

With Buckley, Russell Kirk, Hugh Kenner, et al., these people had absolutely nothing in common. My critics wouldn’t have known conservatism if it had bit them in the neck. In addition to which, beautiful buildings aren’t necessarily more expensive to build than ugly buildings.

So, America has said no to the Olympics, apparently. And the right-wing blogosphere, I guess, has said, “Hurray!” Okay. But what an itty-bitty cramped little attitude.

I’m a republican, as well as a Republican. I don’t think this nation has to be the bride at every wedding or the corpse at every funeral. But I think we can be more than a collection of sulkers who live the Life of Julia and watch porn on their Obamaphones.

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