–Running for President. And now Running for History and Legacy.
In his new book, just out today, ex-Fed-head Alan Greenspan makes one particular observation that resonated deeply with me. It was just one among the many that will, or should, make Mr. Bush and his Republican supporters (the ‘still’ and the ‘erstwhile’) very uneasy.
Greenspan observed that he was dismayed to find soon after Bush took office in January 2001 that politics, not thoughtful policy making, drove the new president’s economic agenda.
How true. But not just the economic agenda. Politics, it seems, drove everything that Bush did. It was extraordinary to see –which I did eventually see– that GEORGE BUSH WAS ALWAYS RUNNING. (Psychologically, it has to be seen –behind the bluster and the posture and the “looking into the soul of” and the cowboy boots– as an indication of immaturity, and low selfconfidence in the man.)
I cannot remember a single speech he gave in the last six-plus years that was not driven by politics. That was not promoting himself or his party, or putting down the Democrats, or trying to scare everybody about terrorism, or give us the latest fake-story on the war unconnected to terrorism.
Hey, you’re president already: now just be one, or at least, act like one –sort of thing.
Shouldn’t a president be able, every now and again, –without promoting himself, or his party– to inspire a nation; or bring it together; or point to a goal; or ask us to sacrifice when necessary, (“each one according to his means” if that doesn’t make me sound like a Christian or a Marxist. I am neither: I have an aversion to labels).
Sacrifice? That’s a joke. Our job is to shop. Acquire stuff. (“Shop and Grieve” as Rudolph Giuliani put it after 9.11. Which places him in roughly the same immaturity bracket.)
Which brings me to Patriotism. And history.
I believe that we all –all human beings– have a basic urge to positivity, to learn, to be and do the best that we can in all the many aspects of our lives, to be responsible, to help, and so on. Certainly, we have other urges too –negative urges such as greed or cruelty or not caring or denial or laziness– but on balance, the fundamental urge is towards positivity and growth and discovery and enlightenment, and so on.
(My argument, in essence, is that we are still here. We haven’t blown ourselves up –yet– and may indeed avoid blowing ourselves up. We discovered a few things, solved a few things, created a few things. There will always be that problem of land and living space. And there will always be that problem of increasing population. And many others.
But we are still here –which is quite an achievement considering some of our propensities.
We would expect all these urges which are present in each one of us, to manifest in the world around us. And indeed they do, as they have done throughout history.
Which brings me directly to America’s place in history. At the core we have the structure that is America, that was created by the founders of the nation. The structure was not created in a vacuum. Indeed the very bloody French Revolution was evolving almost at the same time. We can look at history, which –though it is also a catalogue of the bad and destructive and evil things that we have done– is much more a record of what we have produced through the better angels of our nature.
You can probably see where I am going with this. I am arguing that in all of human history, the structure of America that the founders created
back in 1776 was built on the back of world history to that date. Imperfect as it may be, it nonetheless represents the best definition –so far– of how the life of a nation may be ordered by its own people.
It is the recognition of that fact that defines American Patriotism. It has nothing to do with vain-glory and triumphalism and all those other unbecoming tics. It is a recognition of our humanity, and where we all come from, and the debt we deeply owe to history. It is a recognition that should humble us.
It is a recognition of what binds us all together –our humanity.
And –as we come back to current politics– it is, in my view, a redefinition of how we might regard ourselves again, and redefine our relationship with the nations of the world and the peoples of the world.
When this political cycle plays itself out in November 2008.