Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Conservatives Love America More

I am a little late to the party commenting on Joel Stein's op-ed in the LA Times last month. The issues that Stein raises are constant enough, however, that his editorial and my comments would be current any time in the decade.

Stein believes that in one sense, conservatives do love America more, but that this way is so flawed as to be a net negative. Liberals, on the other hand love America in the correct way.
Fox News' Sean Hannity loves this country so much, he did an entire episode of "Hannity's America" titled "The Greatest Nation on Earth." In that one hour he said, several times, "the U.S. is the greatest, best country God has ever given man on the face of the Earth." One of the surest signs of love is it makes you talk stupid.

Conservatives feel personally blessed to have been born in the only country worth living in. I, on the other hand, just feel lucky to have grown up in a wealthy democracy. If it had been Australia, Britain, Ireland, Canada, Italy, Spain, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Japan, Israel or one of those Scandinavian countries with more relaxed attitudes toward sex, that would have been fine with me too.
Stein compares the conservative's love of America with the irrational love that a parent has for a child, believing that their little Jacob is the smartest, bestest kid in the world. Liberals are more dispassionate, more in contact with reality.

I note in passing the irony the words Second World War infuse into Stein's list of great other places.

Before my mostly-conservative readers get all upset, let's give credit where credit is due. Stein gets some things right in his essay that most liberals don't. It has been my long complaint that progressives in general do not understand what conservatives believe. This is why they continually set up false dichotomies and straw men - not because they are dishonest in the simplest sense, but that they lack the intellectual (or moral) courage to face the arguments actually in play. Stein at least gets it that liberal patriotism is qualitatively different from the conservative variety.

He goes wrong at two important places. First, what if your child really is the smartest in the class, or first violin in the orchestra? That you think he is special is no longer merely an irrational prejudice based on parental bias. Conservatives believe that the US is the best place in the world to live, and more especially, that American values really are superior. To complain that they (we) would think so anyway, as the French think that France is best or the Chinese think that China is best, is not to confront an uncomfortable truth, but to avoid an uncomfortable truth. Sean Hannity has reasons for thinking America best, and these are not mere favoritism for one's own. One might disagree with his reasons or think them exaggerated, but they are based on real evidence.

I recently asserted to a liberal that America is the least racist of nations. She found the idea amazing and appalling, as if I must be blind for thinking so, with all the prejudice that exists in America. She was stuttering and speechless. Well, prejudice does exist in America, and lots of it, but if you observe the behavior of Europeans to the Roma, of the Japanese to the Koreans, of everyone in Africa to everyone else, of China to everyone, or the light-skinned to the dark-skinned in Latin America, then the US starts looking pretty good. Even Canada and the UK, our only real competitors in the non-racist Emmy Awards, have significant problems. Countries that have homogeneous populations aren't really in the mix for comparison, are they? Hell, the Flemish can't even get along with the Walloons, or the Irish with the English.

The second place that Stein goes wrong is in his belief that it is conservatives who are tribal.
I still think conservatives love America for the same tribalistic reasons people love whatever groups they belong to.
Yes we are tribal about other Americans, and that is what allows our military, our businesses, and all our institutions to function even when comprised of many races and groups which disagree. The co-operation may be more reluctant than we would hope, but the love of conservative Americans for other Americans, even black ones, Jewish ones, and gay ones, is apparent once one steps outside our society and looks in at the reality. Stein, on the other hand, is intensely tribal about a single group of people who live in various countries: other progressives. He does not feel an affinity for British Tories, or Australian aboriginals, or French Algerians living in the banlieues. His reference to the people of other nations means liberal white Swedish people, young Japanese people, and urban Italians that he might meet as a tourist.

The tribalism of progressives is one of my favorite soapboxes (see "Cultural Tribes" on the sidebar). It is fair to accuse me of exaggerating it, or noticing it to the exclusion of other factors. But I am not making it up. You can hear progressives making generalizations about Europe, or Other Developed Nations, when they actually mean only a subset of those populations, any day of the week.


Anonymous said...

One might disagree with his reasons or think them exaggerated, but they are based on real evidence.

This is a pet peeve of mine.

Often in discussions about religion or political topics you hear the phrase there is no evidence that...

This just means that the speaker is completely dismissing whatever argument you are making. I usually respond with No, there IS evidence. Maybe you find it lacking or unconvincing (and that's okay), but you can't just dismiss it out-of-hand. That's intellectually dishonest.

Legal-Right said...

I found stein's article interesting and yet disturbing. If he is correct and most liberals are simply wondering if the grass is greener on the other side, our country is in for a world of hurt as liberals attempt to squeeze America into a German or Swedish democracy.

The diversity alone of our population speaks to the wonders of America that other "rich democracies" lack. One constantly hears of immigrants doing everything they can to get into America in order to chase the American Dream. I've never heard of the English or French Dream.

Actually, they probably chase the American Dream. =)

Anonymous said...

Libs sense of tribes always seems to come down to identity politics BS...

I like Whittle's take on tribes, which comes down to character:

Anonymous said...

Regarding your statement that America was the least racist county, while I might not go that far, I definitely agree that compared to other countries we don't look so bad.

I came to that conclusion after working overseas and from having foreign roommates when in grad school in the US.

Most people who claim that the US is so racist have no experience living overseas, i.e., they are rather parochial in their condemnation of the US.

One irony here is that if Stein is Jewish, he would find out VERY QUICKLY that if he were to go live in one of those aforementioned countries that the US is after Israel, the least anti-Semitic country in the world.

Bruce Bawer's While Europe Slept has good anecdotes about anti-Semitism in Europe.