Balkinization  

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Obama and the Image of America

Mary L. Dudziak

"Just wanted to share my joy across the Atlantic," wrote a friend from Paris this morning, as the world celebrated Barack Obama’s victory.
"It would be hard to overstate how fervently vast stretches of the globe wanted the election to turn out as it did to repudiate the Bush administration and its policies," writes Ethan Bronner for the New York Times. But this is not the only reason that Obama’s election is particularly important to the world.
For decades, American race relations have been a central feature of the way peoples of other nations regarded the United States. Discrimination against peoples of color led other nations to argue that the United States must correct its own imperfections before criticizing human rights violations by others. How could the United States argue that its system of government was a model for the world when within its own borders American citizens were segregated and disenfranchised?
In 1944 Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal argued that race discrimination was especially problematic in the United States because it was at odds with the principles of American democracy. During World War II, American racism "acquired tremendous international implication," he suggested. "America for its international prestige, power and future security needs to demonstrate to the world that American Negroes can be satisfactorily integrated into its democracy."
During the Cold War years, the international impact of American race relations escalated. Lynching, disenfranchisement and segregation harmed U.S. international prestige. This gave the Soviet Union an effective propaganda tool. As a columnist in Ceylon wrote in 1948: "the colour bar is the greatest propaganda gift any country could give the Kremlin in its persistent bid for the affections of the coloured races of the world."
"We cannot escape the fact that our civil rights record has been an issue in world politics," President Harry Truman’s Committee on Civil Rights wrote in 1947. American diplomats warned of the devastating impact of racism on U.S. prestige around the world, and American leaders came to understand that in order to lead the world the nation needed to live up to its principles. Spinning the story of race in America was not enough. Instead some level of social change was needed to turn around the impact of racism on the nation’s standing in the world. In this context, the U.S. Justice Department drew upon letter from Secretary of State Dean Acheson in its brief in Brown v. Board of Education (filed in 1952). Acheson noted that "the damage to our foreign relations attributable to [race discrimination] has become progressively greater....The view is pressed more and more vocally that the United States is hypocritical in claiming to be the champion of democracy while permitting practices of racial discrimination here in this country." (This argument is developed much more fully here, here, here and here.)
One lesson of the Cold War years is that living up to the nation’s principles, including protecting individual rights, strengthens the nation around the world. It also enables the United States to be a more forceful voice for human rights. But what Myrdal and others called at the time "the Negro problem" was the central problem for the American international image for many years. The status of African Americans was the Achilles heel as the nation became a world leader. For that reason, an African American President speaks directly to the generations of criticism that a nation that enslaved and then disenfranchised and brutalized its own citizens undermined its ability to be a moral leader of the world.
"I’m so proud of America!" wrote my friend from Paris. Discrimination endures, of course, in spite of the symbolism of Obama’s victory. But Obama now embodies the image of America. Because of this, a generations-long narrative has, for a moment at least, been put aside.


Comments:

Maybe, just maybe, this may finally fuel "With all deliberate speed."
 

It remains to be seen if an Obama presidency actually gets around to repudiating the Bush II regime's acts. Ask in 2012 whether the MCA has been stricken down, or the 2001 AUMF. Ask if we are still entrenched in imperialism, or if we have only changed that of PNAC for that of Brzezinski.

We can only hope. Hope and organize.
 

Congratulations to President-elect Obama and all his supporters. As one who did not support his candidacy, I hope that this will finally lance the boil of political race-baiting.
 

Quidpro:

I hope that this will finally lance the boil of political race-baiting.

I doubt it. The response of the RW contingent to the electoral losses has been to say that McSame wasn't forceful enough; that he held back. That he should have been pushing Wright (and Ayers) much harder.... and probably Obama's secret Mooooslim background and his forging of his birth records....

Cheers,
 

Arne:

Is it race-baiting to question Obama's relationships with Wright and Ayers? If you believe so, then please elaborate. Since the character of a candidate is a legitimate consideration in an election, an investigation of these relationships hardly appears to be motivated by racism.
 

Of course I am happy for Obama, but what is forgotten in the jubilation over his election is that the result is a great disappointment for McCain and Palin, especially McCain, who has spent so many months campaigning for the presidency. I am in favor of eliminating our winner-take-all presidential system and following the practice of many foreign countries whereby the chief executive is chosen by the legislature, may be removed at any time by a vote of no-confidence, and may resign at any time for personal reasons.

Also, I am disturbed that people of mixed race in the USA typically identify with the minority race. Obama is half-black, but he is also half-white. The relatives he knew and who raised him -- his mother and his grandparents -- are white.
 

Larry Farfarman said:

Also, I am disturbed that people of mixed race in the USA typically identify with the minority race. Obama is half-black, but he is also half-white. The relatives he knew and who raised him -- his mother and his grandparents -- are white.

Ever hear of the one drop rule?

People born of mixed race did not always have the luxury of picking which race they would identify with. Especially in the South, the rule was that if you had any Negro ancestry, no matter how far back, you were a Negro.

Even now, if Obama went around claiming he was white, people would say that he was crazy. Despite being half white, to American eyes, he looks more black than white.
 

Quidpro:

Is it race-baiting to question Obama's relationships with Wright and Ayers? ...

No, it's just sleazy. If you care about slimy people [which Ayers and Wright are not], then you should hate McInsane, who sucked up the some of the nastiest people on the right when he needed to. And Obama's "relationship" with Ayers is just manufactured RW lies, just as a FYI.

Wright looks scary to those whites that have never seen black churches ... which is why the GOP PACs were running that ad the last couple days. But that's just whites getting skeered of the nigras. Wright was not really any more provocative than, say, MLKII ... but then again, many white were skeered of MLKII as well, if not outright hating him.

... If you believe so, then please elaborate. Since the character of a candidate is a legitimate consideration in an election, an investigation of these relationships hardly appears to be motivated by racism.

Oh, BS. And InsHannity can go f*ck himself with O'Lielly's loofah.

Cheers,
 

So long as we dwell on the imagery of America electing an African American as President, we objectify Obama and reduce him to nothing more than the melanin content of his skin.

We will get past race when no one notices the man's skin hue and judges him solely by his qualifications or lack thereof.
 

If one has put all one's ideological eggs into the reductionist basket I can only expect the image of America with an intellectual, international, interracial president is nothing short of terrifying, much as was algebra was for most of our semi-literate, semi-numerate citizenry. However frightened one such might be, we can only hope to coax them, gently and kindly, through whatever remedial moral and social education they need to get them up to speed.

After that maybe we can teach these same people that "liberal" isn't a swear word, that compassion isn't weakness, that cosmopolitan isn't a whore's drink. One can hope.
 

My Image of America Under Obama: Four years in which Justice Scalia fondly embraces the anti-majoritarian nature of the bench, and four years of reminding folks what a politicized partisan hack sounds like. Truly gifted rhetoricians can turn on a dime like that, taking which ever side of the argument suits their bosses, with never a moment's concern for honesty or consistency so long as their handler's interests are served.
 

["Bart"]: We will get past race when no one notices the man's skin hue and judges him solely by his qualifications or lack thereof.

"What do you mean 'we', white man?" -- Tonto

But do keep us posted on your progress.

Cheers,
 

Hank Gillette said,
>>>>>> Ever hear of the one drop rule?

People born of mixed race did not always have the luxury of picking which race they would identify with. <<<<<<<

Well, they now have the "luxury" of identifying with more than one race. An article says,

In the 1980 and 1990 censuses, a new formation developed -- ethnicity, as Hispanic or non-Hispanic (replacing what was formerly labeled "Spanish") came to be counted separately from race, but the one drop rule remained in effect for racial categorization.

In all of the census counts through 1990, an individual's race was supposed to be indicated by checking only one of the boxes presumed to correspond to the main social racial categories. Thus, there was no allowance made for mixed-race identification, although the category "other" was recognized in the 1980 and 1990 censes, and on many local record-keeping forms. During the early 1990s, advocates for the federal recognition of mixed race identities succeeded to the extent that the "check only one box" rule for race was rescinded in the 2000 census. This appeared to be the beginning of official recognition of mixed race in the United States.


Obama is always called the USA's "first black president" or "first African-American president" -- he is never called the "first non-white president" or the "first president of color." And he is usually not referred to as being "biracial" or "mixed-race." "Mulatto" is an old-fashioned term.

Arne Langsetmo said,
>>>>> "What do you mean 'we', white man?" -- Tonto <<<<<<

That's supposed to be, "What do you mean 'we', paleface?"
 

And had the Long Ranger's sidekick been a black, the punchline would have been "What do you mean 'we,' honky?" (or its, "you know," equivalent)?

Maybe, just maybe, in modern terms, the metaphoric Lone Ranger is now the sidekick. Kemo Sabe?

And for the future, recall the Green Hornet's sidekick Kato. Someday we'll have an Asian American President.
 

One thing about this Presidential campaign is that it did not feature a consideration of race as a central theme. It is my understanding that John McCain did not allow overt race-baiting as part of his campaign, and in my view, he largely succeeded. Obama wisely did not run as a Black candidate, but McCain had the option to try to force him into that role and as I understand it, he refused.

The result, in my opinion, it that the outcome of the Presidential campaign rests on factors other than race. Obama has been elected as the President of the United States, not as the Black President of the United States. To me that is one of the most amazing things in this very amazing Presidential year.

Sure considerations of race came in to it. They had to, since Obama is rather obviously Black even if you are unaware of his history. But that is now a side issue. It's not an unimportant issue, but it was not the central issue of this election.

As important as his race is to so many people, and as important historically it is that an African-American has been elected the American President, it is even more important that he was elected primarily because more voters think he is the better candidate to deal with the immediate problems America faces. Obama was not elected because he is Black, nor was he defeated because of his race. He was elected because out of the gaggle of candidates presented, the majority of voters felt that he was the best individual for the job.

Brown vs. Board of Education occurred while I was in elementary school, so I have lived all my aware life with the Civil Rights movement. The election of Barack Obama as President does not mean that the problems of Civil Rights and race are over, but it is the first time America has ever - as a nation - faced a set of problems and explicitly stated that race was not the first issue to be dealt with when choosing a leader.

To me that is the real progress we are seeing here.
 

The campaign was too long. Concerns have been expressed over the years with the lengths of presidential campaigns and their costs. The British system for short campaigns has been cited as better than our system. I wish campaigns were shorter.

But would Obama have risen to the top if there had been a short British style campaign? Would Americans have gotten to know him as well as they did without the long campaign? With a short British style campaign, how would voters learn about candidates qualified to lead or would time-in-waiting (like a fraternal lodge) determine leaders? Perhaps some variation of the Parlimentary "debate-challenge" system in Congress might help. But that would ignore governors from the states, that gave us FDR, Carter, Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush; unfortunately, we got George W. the last 8 years. Perhaps before the next presidential campaign starts in 2 years, Wasilla's silly Sarah Palin, Governor of AK-MooseKillers, will resurface, by which time it may be too late to save the whales.

Perhaps at least we'll have 2 years of peace.
 

Larry Fafarman:

That's supposed to be, "What do you mean 'we', paleface?"

Depends on who was telling the joke, eh? Did yo have a point?

Cheers,
 

Bart wrote:

So long as we dwell on the imagery of America electing an African American as President, we objectify Obama and reduce him to nothing more than the melanin content of his skin.

We will get past race when no one notices the man's skin hue and judges him solely by his qualifications or lack thereof.


Hear no evil, say no evil, see no evil ...
 

Time for a Change:

We, the "Balkinization Comments Community", loose knit and unofficial as we are, need to fill the space while the blog re-adjusts to the realities of life under the President Elect. Let's set some guidelines and rules. Let's self regulate. And let's build that initiative to the point where we develop a consistent mindful cadre who assiduously ignore overtly partisan trolls, a group whose members make the extra effort to engage each other and any new voices even arguably open to reasoned discourse.

Absent a will on the part of our hosts to moderate these comments we need to do something on our own if we want better. Exciting times lie ahead and it would be a real shame if the discourse here continued to revolve in a reactionary manner around the determined vandalism of a small few voices.

Think it over. Then make post your comment stating you agree in principle. Then pick three names of "regulars" who really deserve your time and attention, and make it a real point to talk to them and any newcomers.

This is doable, it is worth the effort, and not only is there no time like the present but this particular present already subsumes a shift from our hosts being generally opposition voices to perhaps even occasionally administration supporters. Let's not waste the moment.
 

I like mocking Baghdad Bart. I have no plans to stop.
 

And let's build that initiative to the point where we develop a consistent mindful cadre who assiduously ignore overtly partisan trolls, a group whose members make the extra effort to engage each other and any new voices even arguably open to reasoned discourse.

This has always been my view. I do understand the theory that we post, in part, for those who read here but never post, and that it's important to respond to trolls for their sake. I have two responses to that.

First, I think it's somewhat patronizing to the readers. The readers on this blog are highly likely to be (a) pretty sophisticated and able to tell bad arguments from good; and (b) well aware of whose posts they can trust. Second, I think that there's a real problem that the universe of error is infinite. Rebutting it takes up a huge amount of each thread, to the point where readers who don't need the rebuttal give up in disgust. For every reader who might appreciate the response, I'm guessing there are several who find it a distraction.

This doesn't mean the conversation needs to become insular. One good way to handle the discussion is to find another source for a bad argument, cite it rather than a local troll, and then rebut it. "I've seen it argued at Powerline that..., but that argument fails because...." That way it's never personalized.
 

@MarkField: "...there's a real problem that the universe of error is infinite..."

Removed from the immediate context, that's deep. ;)

Nice suggestion about citing external, and thus arguably impersonal, sources for bad arguments. And I'm happy to acknowledge you've made similar suggestions in the past (and generally do a better job of abiding by such guidelines).

Peace,

rl
 

Arne Langsetmo said,
>>>>>> That's supposed to be, "What do you mean 'we', paleface?"

Depends on who was telling the joke, eh? Did yo have a point? <<<<<<<

Yes, I had a point. I was just telling the joke in its standard form -- I never saw the joke told with "white man" before. "Paleface" expresses the idea that colored skin is the norm and that lack of skin color is abnormal.
 

Bart is on fire! It really is a damn shame those liberals are so focused on race.
 

Although Obama's victory is living history in lightning, his presidency will not be immune to the tensions and backbiting when those who have been oppressed finally come into power as observed by great writers like Golding, Oe, or Shakespeare. America is a struggle for power and I guarantee that once the dust settles, there will be neocons and Republicans who will try to undermine Obama at almost every turn. Hopefully Obama will be smart enough to bring the conflict directly to the people. It will truly change the political landscape and become the blueprint of politics in 21st century America.
 

The world press reaction to the election of Senator Obama to the presidency has been infinitely more favourable than the coverage in 2004 when this front page Daily Mirror - Bush Election 2004 was not unrepresentative of the collective groan outside the USA at the thought of "four more years" now happily coming to an end.

It would be a mistake to see the popular choice of President-elect Obama as a sign that the the USA has completely resolved its race relations problems any more than Europe has.

It would be idle to claim that until our respective education, criminal justice and employment systems demonstrate that our minority populations are being treated equally to the majority.

Those of us who work in the law, whether as teachers, judges, advocates or employers can do our part to support efforts to achieve equal treatment. As an example of efforts being made by the judiciary in the UK may I point readers to the current judicial stance Equal Treatment Bench Book.

On the race relations front, the election of your new President is being seen as a great sign of progress. But the election is also being interpreted as something else - as a rejection of US exeptionalism and of the conscious obscurantism and hypocrisy of the Bush years and the harbinger of a return to multilateralism in international relations.

Like some commentators above, I am waiting to see how your President-Elect and his eventual nominees for high office tackle issues like the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, the so-called "war on terror" and the exceptionalism of the Bush years.

Above all, I would hope to see some ending of the hyperbole attached to terrorism. Statistically the chances of any American being involved in a terrorist incident are far lower than would be the case in Europe and an infinitesimal proportion of the deaths from other than natural causes which occur every year.

The fight against terrorism is NOT going to be won by military means, only contained by police and security measures pending eradication of the root causes. In many ways the "war on terrorism" has made matters much worse rather than better.

The sooner the US public is informed of this, the sooner real remedial action can be effective.
 

But the election is also being interpreted as something else - as a rejection of US exeptionalism

Oddly enough, I think most Americans saw this election as a reaffirmation of American exceptionalism. That phrase was wrongly understood by Bush (and by the Republicans generally) to mean "we are better than you (and can therefore do to you what we will)". What real Americans understand is that it means "we have an obligation to live up to our ideals".

We took an important step in that direction on Tuesday, but redemption is a process, not an event.
 

What real Americans understand is that it means "we have an obligation to live up to our ideals".

I agree wholeheartedly. I think I've posted elsewhere that this take on exceptionalism is (for me, at least) the proper form of patriotism; it holds us to a high standard of behavior that we must strive to meet.

I wonder--and here I risk being lumped with those who talk of "bitter clingers"--how much an evangelical notion of salvation influences one's take on these matters. If one is assured of salvation and has little reason to do good deeds--that is, if giving your worries over to God constitutes the solution to any problem--exceptional character may be seen to be an ontological trait, rather than something born of process and hard work.
 

Mark:

I think we disagree on the use of the English language rather than on the issue of what a civilised democracy should have as its ideals.

In English and also in the "American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language" 'exceptionalism' in relation to states is defined as "the theory or belief that something, especially a nation, does not conform to a pattern or norm."

So, contrary to the position in Neocon "newspeak" where the expression 'liberal' has pejorative connotations - almost a term of abuse, the proper meaning of 'exceptionalism' in Murkin is the same as in English.
 

the theory or belief that something, especially a nation, does not conform to a pattern or norm.

Right, and how does that vary from what Mark said? If we believe that American ideals and values are truly something special--something exceptional--then we certainly believe that they don't conform to a pattern or norm. The question is whether Americans are a priori exceptional or whether we must work towards being exceptional.

The whole project, regardless of angle, may still be ethnocentric, but there is a fundamental difference in the specific usage of the term0.
 

I wonder--and here I risk being lumped with those who talk of "bitter clingers"--how much an evangelical notion of salvation influences one's take on these matters. If one is assured of salvation and has little reason to do good deeds--that is, if giving your worries over to God constitutes the solution to any problem--exceptional character may be seen to be an ontological trait, rather than something born of process and hard work.

The Puritans, who after all pretty much invented the concept of American exceptionalism, wouldn't have see it in that fatalistic way. They understood they had to strive very hard to create the City on a Hill.

In English and also in the "American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language" 'exceptionalism' in relation to states is defined as "the theory or belief that something, especially a nation, does not conform to a pattern or norm."

That's perhaps a tad too literal when it comes to this particular term. Historically, the American immigrants were determined to make society here better than what they left in Europe. Better originally in a religious sense (hence the City on a Hill, as noted above), then more secularly in a "we hold these truths to be self-evident" sense.

As pms-chicago suggests, Americans have (rightly or wrongly) seen our country as a place where those ideals are teleological. As Abraham Lincoln said -- referring to this passage as “the father of all moral principle” in Americans -- the Congress which adopted the Declaration of Independence

“did not mean to assert the obvious untruth, that all were then actually enjoying that equality, nor yet, that they were about to confer it immediately upon them. In fact they had no power to confer such a boon. They meant simply to declare the right, so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit. They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere.”

In saying all this, I don't mean to suggest that other nations can't strive for this goal as well. It's just that the sense of exceptionalism comes from the understanding that it's an obligation of our heritage, one that European governments in the 18th C didn't share.
 

NOVEMBER 4, 2008

Obama
Bobby
And
Martin's
America

AT LONG LAST!
 

American Exceptionalism in an originalist or historic sense seems to be what Mourad focused upon whereas Mark's take is more in a modern or revisionist (but not in a bad) sense. Consider the theme of Andrew Bacevich's new bestselling book "The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism" which is part of the The American Empire Project. Yes, America is much better than many of the things done in its name over the past 8 years and earlier. But this was not endowed by God in the 1620s upon the City on the Hill of what became Boston, my place of birth and home. This early American Exceptionalism gave us slavery and slaughters of indigenous peoples, with many limitations upon women. Manifest Destiny became imperialism and empire. America has overcome much, but much more remains to overcome. So I can accept Mark's version today that, yes, America can and will do better in the moral sense.
 

People have tendered the notion that electing a black president somehow mitigates the race issue in the US. I would submit it does not. Among other things, on the principal that power always tends to corrupt, Obama will shortly fall from his current pedestal. And, given the history of race in the US, its a very high pedestal to fall from, and so will be a spectacular fall.

And, its true that for people of African descent throughout the world this is a telling moment. All my friends from Africa are so excited you have to nearly duck from the blast of their enthusiasm, and so touched you can't help but be touched yourself. For when one person of a race is struck for their membership, all unmistakably feel it. This makes the issue all the more sensitive.

Although Obama gets credit for largely steering around the race issue in his campaign, it will take concerted effort on his part to continue that navigation throughout his administration. The nature and duration of race relations in the US places on Obama a burden unique to the oval office. Other presidents have faced armed menaces, greater in face than what we face now. Other presidents have faced economic storms more intense that what we face now. Other presidents have faced division much greater than what we face now. Obama faces something far different in nature than what others before him have faced - the all but innate attachment to race so many suffer from. Its a fundamental matter we would be foolish to pretend isn't wide spread. It may be better by some measures that in the past, but it isn't gone and it isn't small.

He may be up to the economic crisis, and he can seek counsel from advisers and history for help. He may be up to the armed conflicts, and he can seek counsel from advisers and history. For the challenge of how to broker race in the white house, it would seem that none can advise him. I remain optimistic, however, since the issue of race could have been worse throughout the campaign, and to date Obama has been mature about it and avoided falling into its trappings.
 

@Mourad,

Don't you think Obama's ascent fairly well undoes race as an issue in general? Doesn't his success really exemplify the notion that the relevant mode of analysis is class? Don't the descendants of slaves, be they wage slaves from Mexico or slaves-in-fact from Africa, still exist primarily as underclass? America as a nation has a long way to go before a member of the underclass can make her way to the White House, regardless her race. Certainly Obama's Kenyan father was not a member of that underclass.

However, it suffices for now that this president elect is, as I'm fond of alliterating, interracial, international, and intellectual. After what seems a lifetime of bellicose harassment by semi-literate semi-numerate dittoheads I relish the notion that diction and vocabulary and even sustained reason (as opposed to committed and persistent rhetorical vandalism) might once again enjoy a brief moment of fashion.
 

"Certainly Obama's Kenyan father was not a member of that underclass."

But in Obama's early years, he was basically in the same circumstance as if his father were a "member of that underclass." I doubt if the community in which Obama lived treated him otherwise. He was fortunate in having a strong mother and grandparents who could nurture his talents.
 

AFTER 7 SCORE AND 5 YEARS

Obama's
Black
American
Mosaic
Achievement

COMPLETES EMANCIPATION
 

@Shaq,

Can't fault your enthusiasm. Keep it comin' ;)

rl
 

Shag:

Would you be nearly as enthusiastic if the first African American President was a young conservative Republican like J.C. Watts rather than a liberal Dem like Barack Obama?
 

Maybe little Lisa can explain to her bro why J. C. Watts seemed to lose enthusiam for the republican party several years ago. And perhaps if J. C. had been put through a wringer the past two years like Obama, I would be in a better position to know if I could be enthused by him as much as I am enthused by Obama. By the way, perhaps J. C. has good vibes with Obama just as Condi Rice seems to (as does Colin Powell). J. C. was a good man when he served in Congress and even better when he decided not to run for reelection. (He's making a lot more money since he's no longer a lawn figure for the republicans in Congress.) Perhaps if little Lisa's bro had phrased the question with Alan Keyes in lieu of J. C., I could then definitely say "No."

Consider that my enthusiam for Obama is related to George W's ineptness that was apparent even before SCROTUS elected him.

I wonder about the sentiments of little Lisa's bro if Keyes had been the republican nominee rather than McCain running against Obama with Sarah Palin as his running mate.

By the way, little Lisa's bro might be interested that a judge charged with DWI tried to beat the breathalyzer test with Chapstick and a penny in his mouth. Bro can put this in his knapsack of DUI tricks. Or could this be a Colorado technique for which he can take credit?
 

Mark Field:-

If by "exceptional" you mean that the USA now has democratic, moral and social conditions that make it an example for others to to emulate, then I think you fail to appreciate just how far the USA has fallen behind as compared to the democracies of the European Union.

I agree that the disparities have grown very much during the last 8 years, but the balance started shifting around 1960 and today by most measures, the USA is about 20 years behind the EU norm. In 1960 the USA could generally claim superiority in quite a number of respects, but today, to give but a few examples, the rate of imprisonment per 100,000 of population is by far higher than in any EU country, no EU country has capital punishment, no EU country has failed to provide decent healthcare for the generality of citizens, social protections generally are superior in the EU, so are employment conditions.

The trouble is, perhaps, that very many Americans do not travel and are unaware of just how much the balance has in fact changed.

It might be worth readers looking at this comparative table from World Audit League Tables and then read the Publisher's Overview

This is also a question of moral leadership in the world. I remember visiting Algeria in my youth at a time when the French were loosing the independence struggle. In every home I went to, there were to be found on the walls three tapestries or photographs or prints:

- one of Mecca,
- one of the Emir Abdelkader (for why see this French translation of a work by Charles-Henry Spencer-Churchill aka "Churchill Bey" a noted orientalist of the Marlborough family Al Amir Abd el Kader Al Jazairi.;
- one of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy (Kennedy's support for Algerian independence is well documented - see this letter Kennedy Letter 1957 still to be found on an Algerian blogger's web site on his country.

That was perhaps the high point of US standing in the Arab world - since then it has been downhill all the way and it is not going to come back up so easily. The Obama presidency at least may begin the rehabilitation process.

PMS Chicago wrote:-

"If we believe that American ideals and values are truly something special--something exceptional--then we certainly believe that they don't conform to a pattern or norm. The question is whether Americans are a priori exceptional or whether we must work towards being exceptional."

What I am trying to say is that once upon a time, many years ago, American values were "exceptional" in the best sense - something for other nations to look up to and seek to emulate. No longer. America has fallen out of the "top drawer". So, perhaps, a bit of house cleaning is in order, a recognition that the USA has to improve on its own standing before it lectures others.

Robert Link:-

Race as an issue per se is going to be with us for some time, but I agree that it can now be said that in both our countries that, with the right education, the highest flyers can achieve irrespective of, or perhaps more exactly, despite any racial handicap. Now the issues are more properly ones of equality of opportunity. Do we provide that to all groups equally? Not yet in my country and I do not think you yet do in the USA either. Both our countries have our failing schools, a disparity between black and white in the incarcerated population, a higher percentage of lone mothers struggling to bring up children without a resident father in the black community. Poverty is a major factor, of course, but throwing money at the problem is not the sole solution.

In relation to your link, I recollect that it is said that when Philip II engaged Aristotle as the tutor for his son Alexander, he prohibited the teaching of Eristics, because he considered that a monarch who through his rhetoric made the worse cause seem the better would always come to grief. Whether the anecdote is true or not, the pronouncements of the Toxic Texan's Administration were very often argued from false premises with predictable results.
 

This column by Robert Fisk in the Independent Robert Fisk: Obama has to pay for eight years of Bush's delusions may give some idea of the problems facing the new presidency. Fisk is forthright - but right more often than not.
 

IT'S

Over,
Bart,
Accept
Mission
Accomplished

THE FAT LADY HAS SUNG!
 

If by "exceptional" you mean that the USA now has democratic, moral and social conditions that make it an example for others to to emulate

I absolutely did NOT mean that. What I meant was that the US, unlike other nations, was founded with the express goal of creating moral and social conditions that would make it an example for others to follow. We haven't always lived up to that goal; under Bush we fell very far indeed from it. Nevertheless, it remains a goal written into our founding documents.
 

@Mourad,

First, I can only wish "Barbarian Watch" was updated more frequently. If you hang out other places or are open to direct email, let me know. I'm reachable at beau (at) oblios-cap (dot) com.

Second, I think it was Ben Franklin's Autobiography that introduced me to what I will henceforth call "Eristics". I didn't get far in the book, but did get far enough to read of his working with a friend on a new religious sect. The friend did the overt preaching, Ben's job was to confound their opponents. It radically reduced my opinion of Franklin. I came upon The Art of Controversy a year ago or so looking for resources to show how trolls typically use a fairly short list of standard cheats. I did that partly in the context of disagreeing with Professor Lakoff about "framing". My argument is that Lakoff's attention to framing wrongly presupposes good faith actors on both sides of the conversation, but trolls and politi-tainment celebrities are not engaged in good-faith dialectic; they are engaged in acquisition of power, for which it often suffices to throw one's opponents into confusion (or, more often, apoplexy).

I have also argued that the Scoratic method, in general, is poorly understood. As exemplified in John Houseman's portrayal of Professor Kingsfield in "The Paper Chase" (which seems to be the touchstone for many folks's understanding of the method) it is primarily a tool of dominance/submission training. As exemplified by Plato's dialogs it is a cheat; Socrates always wins because the author is on his side and causes his opponents to be comparatively dim witted. And I recall one morning in my late teens noticing as my Uncle watched the Sunday morning shouting heads that the person who insisted on getting their questions asked and answered always came out ahead. The Socratic method has little if anything to do with Hegel's dialectic, the sincere and legitimate search for increasingly nuanced and accurate truths through the process of refining thesis and antithesis into synthesis. Lakoff's remarks, to my ear, fail to make this distinction. The troll's job is not only to make the worse cause seem the better. It often suffices, and is easier and more fun, to make the better cause seem the worse, at least in the eyes of one's mentally ill-equipped audience.

I tend to think Eristics (confutation, ToAC, ...) should be taught, not as a skilll to use, but as an ever present evil against which lovers of truth must always fight (even in their own thinking).
 

What I meant was that the US, unlike other nations, was founded with the express goal of creating moral and social conditions that would make it an example for others to follow.

The 'exceptionalism' Mark speaks of is aspirational and not declarative.
 

Pithily said, mattski. Exactly.
 

JANUARY 20, 2009

Out,
Bush!
America's
Making
Amends

CONSTITUTIONALLY
 

I accept Mark Field used "exceptionalism" in a special sense, but that is not how the rest of the world understands or uses the world.

This NY Times article Secret Order Lets U.S. Raid Al Qaeda in Many Countries is far more indicative of what the rest of the world considers to be "US exceptionalism" - conduct contrary to all norms of relations between sovereign states.

And President-elect Obama's "honeymoon" with the rest of the world will not last for very long if such unilateral conduct were to continue.

See this op-ed by Simon Jenkins in the Guardian: All the cliches about colour obscure the real challenges awaiting Obama.
 

Further to my post above, it is gratifying to see from an AP Report just an hour ago Obama planning US trials for Guantanamo detainees that it appears that the transtion is at work on at least one of the major issues which have not redounded to the international standing of the USA.
 

This NY Times article Secret Order Lets U.S. Raid Al Qaeda in Many Countries is far more indicative of what the rest of the world considers to be "US exceptionalism" - conduct contrary to all norms of relations between sovereign states.

That is certainly how the political right has treated the doctrine for at least the last 40 years or so. I can't blame those overseas for thinking that's the principal use of the term.
 

Over at the Volikh Conspiracy, Orin Kerr posted this Obama Administration to Create Hybrid System to Try Gitmo Detainees? describing the reported Obama plans as "promising".

98 posts later comes this:-

"To All from Orin Kerr

I have tried deleting and editing comments to this post, but the software seems to be malfunctioning and it is not letting the comments and deletions go through. However, you all are acting like 3 year olds -- the comments are uncivil, immature, and silly. Given that, I am cutting off the thread."


Can't say I'm surprised.
 

It was particularly amusing that one post slipped in after Prof. Kerr shut down the thread, and it was a paradigm example of what he described.
 

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