Tuesday, January 30, 2007

2008--The Idea of America

In an earlier post, I suggested that Democrats should articulate an American ideology. In response to that idea, MS emailed, "I don't think America has or needs an ideology. Does any country have an ideology? Certainly not any as diverse as diverse as this country. We do have founding principles: individual liberty, self-government, equality of opportunity, separation of church and state, to name a few."

Fair enough, but I suggest that the idea of America has always been the key to our national identity. People came here because of the American ideal, more than they did because of the streets that were supposed to be paved with gold. The Thanksgiving myth centers around the Pilgrims at Plymouth, not the wealth of the present day. Even our imperializing is cloaked not in national glory but in the belief that we are making the world a better place. That kind of moralizing is deeply offensive to some in other countries, and a cause for ridicule in others, but it expresses a difference between the United States, that is, Americans, and the citizens of other nations, at least of those that have been major international powers.

Most Americans, even most of those who concern themselves with politics, don't think of themselves as ideological. Indeed, one of the most important contributors to our success in the 20th Century was a hostility to fixed ideologies. That characteristic enabled bipartisanship--a concept almost unknown in other democracies, even Britain. Still, I suggest that that non-ideological politics really expressed a general agreement on an overarching framework of ideas on which American politics and policy were grounded.

Thanks to the "conservative" [reactionary is a better term] movement of the past three decades, much of that agreement has been torn apart. But that does not mean that Americans cannot come together to express the American idea. Indeed, the obvious failure of the "conservatives," especially of the Bush administration, provides an opportunity to rebuild a consensus around the basic propositions that gave the United States its great influence for decades.

So what should America stand for? I don't claim to have thought the answer through completely, and to say what we stand for could fill a thick book and leave plenty of room for argument, but let me start with a few ideas:

--That all individuals are entitled to dignity and respect.

--That individuals have the right to free thought and free expression.

--That government depends on the consent of the governed, and that government should be based on law.

--That government's first mission, after preserving the nation, is to protect the rights of its citizens.

--That government should act to protect those who have the least before it aids those who have more than they need.

--That democratic government is best, but that at least government should be responsive to the needs of the populace, and should work to progress toward true democracy.

--That the United States has no territorial ambitions.

These represent only a beginning, of course. I'll try to add to them and to form them into some more coherent framework, and I'd be happy to have your ideas. But I hope you can see from this small start how we could construct an ideology that would allow us to contest with those who view the United States as their enemy.

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