Monday, April 11, 2011

The Illusion of Choice

Today I read an article titled "Paul Ryan's Plan a perfect target for President Obama?" from  The article began by describing the scatter of GOP presidential hopefuls, the eleventh hour budget deal, and then shifted toward focusing on political strategy.  Because of the absence of a strong front runner for the Republicans, the Democrats have had no one to smear.  According to the article, that may have now changed.

I quote,
"“The Ryan proposal could be the foil Obama needs,” said former Bill Clinton adviser Paul Begala, who could not sound happier at the prospect. “I hope every vulnerable Republican in Congress signs on to the Ryan plan to kill Medicare, because we will beat ’em like a bad piece of meat.”
Let me begin this by saying that the Paul Ryan plan isn't perfect.  For those of you who don't know, the Paul Ryan budget plan aimed to slash 6.2 trillion dollars in a decade and reduce the federal deficit by over 4 trillion dollars.  Its aim was to reduce the deficit through entitlement program reforms.  A massive overhaul of medicare was a part of the proposal.  Some of its claims about its own ability to massively slash unemployment are not only untested but probably falsities.   However, to date, its the only proposal we've heard from either side that actually moves toward reducing the federal deficit. 

Now, please take the time to go up and read that quote one more time.  Does it make you a little angry, frustrated, or discontented?  Do you get the feeling when the parties talk like this that they aren't taking things seriously enough?  Worse yet, I read that quote, and it feels like the whole thing is just a big game. 

The games played in our two party system became apparent to most of us a long time ago.  However, quotes/articles like this will always strike a nerve in me.  One could argue that the fiscal state of the United States is the single largest issue impacting national security, and yet the two parties seem to be only concerned about their consolidated powers in 2012.  Remember, the former Clinton adviser "could not have sounded happier."  Happy?  The fiscal crisis is dangerous and growing exponentially more so every year.

This led into me thinking about the illusion of choices.  One week Pepsi's on sale, the next week its Coke, AT&T or Verizon, and Republican or Democrat.  After all, the rates, sales, and options are all worked out.  You feel like you are getting a choice right?  However, in the end, you are paying about the same price, for the same service, regardless of which one you choose.  In fact, the differences have become so subtle and minute, that in some ways your decision isn't really a decision at all. 

This is true of politics as well.  It seems, we are being given the illusion of choice, but its all part of the power sharing game.  The pertinent issues are merely avenues by which politicians skirt and make minor tweaks to.  Those minor tweaks are then heralded as major political victories.  In the quote, the pertinent issue is medicare reform.  The former Clinton adviser laughs at the Republican Paul Ryan  for trying to tackle the issue.  Notice the critic offers no medicare reform solution of their own.  Ryan's own party then distanced themselves to avoid association with a budget that would be viewed as cutting medicare.   So neither side will tackle the issue? 

Has our two party system lost its steam?  Although the free market has its criticisms, I think its principles apply here.  Maybe a lack of competition in the two party system has resulted in a stale/stagnant government that fails to function?  It makes no difficult decisions but simply continues with the status quo regardless of necessity.  That sounds like failure to thrive to me. 

As always, your thoughts and feelings are appreciated in the comment section. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

"American Exceptionalism" - My Response

"American Exceptionalism" generated some interesting comments shared.  Although each of you had something valid and important to share, I feel as though my blog's purpose was unclear.  This is not the fault of the reader, but rather the writer.  While dialogue in person allows for questioning and clarity, other mediums do not.  Texts, blogs, books, podcasts, and the like require the broadcaster to be clear.  I wasn't.  For that I apologize.

For those who felt "American Exceptionalism" to be anti-American, that was not my intent.  Reading through the blog multiple times, I felt the tone was a little more pessimistic than I originally intended.  Near the closing I stated, "Reading those verses doesn't inspire me to feel American exceptionalism.  In fact, it doesn't make me feel exceptional at all."  This may have led some of you to believe that I don't believe in patriotism, love of country, or the significance of cultural values.  This could not be further from the truth.

The United States has characteristics that are not present in any other country in the world.  The U.S. Constitution is an incredible document that has made a tremendous impact wherever it has been embraced. Furthermore, it protects rights and freedoms in ways that are indiscriminate and invaluable. 

"American Exceptionalism" was primarily written to address foreign policy blunders that have resulted from "blind patriotism" since the conclusion of WWII.  Some would contest that 1945 is when American foreign policy transformed from a less interventionist stance to something else entirely.  The United States Military is now present in more than 110 countries.
If I am not a patriot for being angry with an executive branch that declares war without approval from congress, and knows no accountability, so be it.  If I am not a patriot for desiring fiscal responsibility as it pertains to an unsustainable interventionist foreign policy, let that be.  If I am not a patriot because I question the motives and actions of my government,  then again, let that be.

The United States certainly is an exceptional country.  Who can argue that?  However, the American Exceptionalism I was referring to was the sort that allows presidents to enter conflicts because its the "right thing to do" without telling congress, you, or me exactly what makes that decision so right.  I believe in accountability and integrity in government.  That is what "American Exceptionalism" meant to say.  

Saturday, April 2, 2011

American Exceptionalism

I, along with millions of Americans, listened to the President's address concerning Libya on March 28, 2011.  Although the speech was clearly being given by President Obama, the message was one I've heard numerous times from every administration I can remember.

Steve Benen of Washington Monthly noted Obama saying, "the United States isn't like other countries; ours is a country with unique power, responsibilities, and moral obligations."

Regularly throughout the President's address I remember hearing the words responsibility, calling, greatest country, etc.  It became certain to many who may not have believed it before that the president does indeed believe in American exceptionalism.   Administrations have long been using such rhetoric when addressing the American people, especially as it pertains to foreign policy.

At this moment a pertinent question needs to be asked, is this belief in American exceptionalism limited to government officials, politicians, and the president?  Or is it a prevailing belief in the United States transcending race, gender, politics and religion?  A Gallup poll from late last year found that 80% of Americans believe their country "has a unique character that makes it the greatest country in the world."  If that statistic is even marginally accurate, the chances that a group, organization, or assembly you belong to have this as a prevailing veiwpoint are strong. 

Glenn Greenwald, a blogger whom I've come to respect and follow states,
 "The probability that I happened to be born in the greatest country on Earth -- or, even more so, the greatest country ever to exist on Earth in all of human history -- is minute. Isn't it far more likely that I believe this because I was taught to, rather than because it's true?" (Source)
Greenwald focuses on the foreign policy consequences of holding the exceptionalist viewpoint.  Exceptionalism can take different forms and result in different consequences.  Stephen Walt argues,
"The only real difference between neocons and liberal interventionists is that the latter insist on legitimizing their wars through the U.N. while the former don't care to."
 Moving away from foreign policy, I want to bring this issue a little closer to home.  Although the Gallop poll mentioned earlier is merely a poll, what if that number is true?   What if that is the prevailing viewpoint in our churches today?  Is it wrong to believe the United States is the greatest country in the world?

How do we define greatness?  Do we characterize greatness by military might, economy, freedom, democratic tendencies?  Are we really better and our foreign endeavors more just?

John 18:36 (NIV)- Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

Matthew 5:3-10 (NIV)- 
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 Blessed are those who mourn,
   for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
   for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
   for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
   for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
   for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
   for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Reading those verses doesn't inspire me to feel American exceptionalism.  In fact, it doesn't make me feel exceptional at all.  What do you think?